Pregnancy-related deaths for U.S. mothers climbed higher in the pandemic’s first year, continuing a decades-long trend that disproportionately affects Black people, according to a government report released Wednesday.
Overall in 2020, there were almost 24 deaths per 100,000 births, or 861 deaths total—numbers that reflect mothers dying during pregnancy, childbirth or the year after. 2019 saw a rate of 20 deaths per 100,000.
Among Black people, there were 55 maternal deaths per 100,000 births—almost triple the rate for whites.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the report does not explain the trends and the researchers say they are not sure if COVID-19 contributed. This increases risk for serious illness during pregnancy.
Coronavirus might have had an indirect affect. People waited to seek medical attention early during the pandemic because they were afraid of contracting the virus. The virus surges also strained the system which may have had an effect on the number of pregnant deaths. Eugene Declercq is a Harvard professor and researcher in maternal mortality at the Boston University School of Public Health.
Continue reading: The U.S. death rate rose significantly during the COVID-19 Pandemic
He called the high rates “terrible news’’ and noted that the U.S. has continually fared worse in maternal mortality than many other developed countries.
The number of pregnancies-related deaths per 100,000 births increased from 44 to 55 among Blacks in 2019, to 55 in 2020, and 13 to 18 for Hispanics. In 2020, the rate for whites was 19 per 100,000 births. This is essentially unchanged.
These disparities cannot be explained by the data. However, experts point to many other factors such as differences in the rates of health conditions or poor access to high-quality health care.
“This is incredibly sad news and especially scary for Black women,’’ said Dr. Laura Riley, OB-GYN chief at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
Dr. Janelle Bolden, an assistant OB-GYN professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said the report is not surprising.
“The pandemic has uncovered the disparities in access to care, healthcare quality and delivery. It has also laid bare the lack of support for public health and social agencies that many people rely on for basic needs,” Bolden said. “These disparities and inadequacies lead to poor care and worse outcomes.”
In 35 years, the U.S. has seen its maternal mortality rate more than triple. It was just 16 deaths for every 100,000 births a decade ago. This has increased with increasing rates of obesity and heart disease, as well as cesarean section, which increase the risks to women giving birth.