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Maternal Mortality Rates Are Rising in the United States—And Nowhere Else

Updated January 8, 2024 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

The United States has had the highest maternal mortality rate since 1994, and it’s the only developed nation where the maternal mortality rate is on the rise. Research published in The Lancet shows that the rate has increased to 26.4 deaths for 100,000 live births in 2015. The next-closest rate shows a wide margin: There are 9.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in the United Kingdom. Finland shows the lowest rate in the report: 3.8.

Focus on Infant Health at the Expense of Maternal Health

A ProPublica article on the trend points to a shift in focus to newborn health as a factor in the decline of mothers’ survival rates. To be sure, the infant mortality rate is falling in response to several decades of focused medical attention. That success may have come at a price for mothers.

“We worry a lot about vulnerable little babies,” the article quotes Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy/advocacy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and “we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women.”

Stunningly, the attention paid to advancements in prenatal and infant care occurred almost to the exclusion of maternal care. Even within the past five years, maternal-fetal medicine training in many programs did not mandate training within a labor and delivery unit.

Indiana’s Maternal Mortality Rate

Where does Indiana fall among other states? In 2019, the maternal mortality rate in Indiana was among the highest in the nation, with 34.9 deaths for every 100,000 births. New Jersey had it worse, with a rate of 37.3, and in that state there’s a push to institute some of the procedures that helped get the United Kingdom’s rate to decline.

Movements to Improve Maternal Health

In the United Kingdom, a national committee is in place to examine each death arising from pregnancy or childbirth complications. Medical records and data are scrutinized, and coroner-enacted public inquiries shed light on what hospitals and their staffs could improve upon. Great improvements have resulted, but here in the United States, such efforts are not spearheaded by the federal government and are left to the states.

So far, according to the ProPublica article, only 26 states have instituted such a process to address maternal health and mortality. Some progress may come in legislation: the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act would authorize funds for state-established review panels. California is among the first to emulate the United Kingdom’s system.

It’s hard to imagine, with the stunning discrepancy between the United States and other developed nations, the movement to improve outcomes here won’t grow exponentially in the coming years. For now, the CDC offers guidance and, as always, doing your own research and asking a lot of questions of your physicians can help your own outcome.

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a birth injury, contact the Indianapolis Birth Injury Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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