US maternal mortality rates fell in 2022 after 3 years of increases: CDC

Among racial and ethnic groups, Black women had the highest rates.

ByPeter Charalambous, Aaron Katersky, and Mike Pappano ABCNews logo
Thursday, May 2, 2024
US maternal mortality rates fell in 2022, CDC says
Maternal mortality rates in the United States fell in 2022 after at least three years of continuous increases, new federal data shows.

Maternal mortality rates in the United States fell in 2022 after at least three years of continuous increases, new federal data shows.

In 2022, 817 women in the U.S. died of maternal causes with a rate of 22.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the report published early Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

This is a drop from the 1,205 women that died in 2021 with a rate of 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, a Dallas-based OB-GYN, said she believes one reason for the drop from 2021 to 2022 is that in the later months of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were less nervous to seek medical care and there was more access to health services.

"I do think when you look at 2021, we really were at the height of the pandemic," she told ABC News. "And what we do know that happened during the pandemic is when there was decreased access -- and who was able to go to the doctors -- we didn't have a lot of support during the actual pregnancy and delivery portion because there was less support people that were allowed in the delivery room."

Maternal mortality rates also fell significantly for several racial/ethnic groups in 2022 including Black, white and Hispanic women. However, the 2022 rate for Black women of 49.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births was significantly higher than the rate for white women at 19.0 and Hispanic women at 16.9.

Asian women also saw a drop from 2021 to 2022 but the CDC said it was not statistically significant. The rate was also lower than that of Black women at 13.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

"I think we've recognized for a while that this disparity exists, and I think that for a long time, people thought, 'Oh, it's just access, you know, there isn't good access,' or ''This really reflecting socio-economic status, etc. There's a million different excuses," Dr. Laura Riley, OBGYN-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, told ABC News.

She said the reasons are multi-factorial, but systemic racism in the health care industry, due to lack of representation, may be playing a role.

"Older CDC data suggests that Black women even at the highest socio-economic strata when you compare them to their white counterparts, they still have a higher risk of death," Riley said. "I think we also are recognizing that systemic racism plays a role in some of these adverse events, and it's a question of sort of pulling all of that apart and figuring out how we can provide quality healthcare to everyone."

When broken down by age, rates decreased significantly for every age group between 2021 and 2022. Even with the drop, the rate for women over age 40 was 87.1 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, about six times the rate for women younger than age 25 at 14.4 per 100,000 live births.

Previous studies have shown that risk factors associated with maternal mortality in older women include smoking during pregnancy, inadequate use of prenatal care, concurrent medical conditions such as hypertension, and previous pregnancy problems.

Riley said it's important for maternal mortality review committees, which convene at the state or local level, to study why women are dying during or after pregnancy, as well as studying women who suffered pregnancy complications.

"We also know that there's (women who have) survived the pregnancy and survived the labor and delivery events but have some long term what we call morbidity associated with birth, long term kind of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease," she said. "And so that's yet another reason that we need to really understand what's happening so that we can make changes in the health care system, in the education community levels, at hospital levels, at individual doctors' levels, so that we can make people healthier and make pregnancy and childbirth super."

Kaitlin Ervin, MD is a family medicine resident at Emory University and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.