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Maternal Death on the Rise in the US

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If you're an American woman, it should concern you that our national maternal mortality rate is not only higher than other developed nations, but has been increasing since 1990. The most current figures: 18.5 women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth for every 100,000 births in the United States. That's more than double the rate in places like the United Kingdom or Germany.

Some of the proposed explanations suggest the answer to the U.S.'s higher rate overall might be due to more accurate reporting, increased maternal age, the high C-section rate, poor health and lack of proper care, says this article in The Economist.

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But there's also a troubling disparity in which moms are most at risk. When you look at the information according to race, black American moms are the most vulnerable.

What's going on? Unfortunately, the answer's unclear.

While the risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications is still low for American women, some are at higher risk. That's certainly evidenced by the racial disparity in maternal mortality rates in the U.S. While the national average is 18.5 women per 100,000 live births, that rate is 12.5 deaths per 100,000 for white women, 42.8 deaths for black women and 17.3 for women of other races, according to the Center for Disease Control. The figures of maternal death for black mothers are especially disconcerting.

The national increase may be due in part to more American women going into pregnancy with a number of preexisting health issues. The list includes obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. This line of thought also finds that these health conditions are more common among black women—and might partially explain the discrepancy. Poverty and access to proper care throughout pregnancy affect maternal mortality as well. Thus, this is both a medical and social problem.

Maternal age is part of the discussion as well, since over 27 percent of pregnancy-related deaths happened to women age 35 or older.

On a global scale, approximately 800 women die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, says the World Health Organization. Although the worldwide rate has improved since in the last two decades, 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

In the U.S., the biggest causes of maternal death were due to cardiovascular diseases, other preexisting conditions, infection or sepsis, and hemorrhage.

There is some hope. California has been able to improve its maternal mortality rate, reports The Economist. By focusing on preventable causes of maternal death, such as better managing hemorrhage and preeclampsia, the California rate has dropped to about six deaths per 100,000 pregnancies.

The case in the Golden State indicates that this is a problem the states can improve through research and a joint effort with hospitals and pregnancy care providers. The numbers also suggest that it's in women best interest to be healthy going into pregnancy. However, there's no quick fix to chronic health conditions.

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On a personal level, it's that much more imperative to raise all girls with an understanding of lifelong health and wellbeing. On a national level, it continues to be important to combat the societal ills of poverty and access to health care.

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