Maternal deaths surged in 2021, CDC says

The rate of mothers who died during pregnancy or within six weeks of childbirth surged during the second year of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

In 2021, 1,205 women died of maternal causes nationwide compared to 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported. The maternal mortality rate was 32.9 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2021, up about 38% from 23.8 deaths in 2020 and about 63% from 20.1 deaths in 2019.

“Increases in deaths among these women while pregnant or within 42 days of being pregnant occurred across age, race, and Hispanic origin groups between 2020 and 2021,” CDC statistician Donna Hoyert, the report’s author, told The Washington Times.

The nation’s maternal death rates for 2020 and 2021 were each much higher than the estimated rates of some other high-income countries — including Australia, Austria, Israel, Japan and Spain — which all averaged 2-3 deaths per 100,000 births in 2020.

According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in high-income nations overall was 12 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2020, compared to 430 in low-income countries.

Although the CDC did not explain the reasons for the U.S. spike, some doctors noted that many women avoided seeing the doctor for anything other than COVID during pandemic restrictions. 

“While this is likely multifactorial, one thing to consider is a potential drop in clinical visits to OB/GYN offices during this time, as this was the case across other specialties. Therefore, potential high-risk mothers-to-be may have not been properly prepared for their pregnancies and deliveries,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a physician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Katy Talento, who served as the top health adviser at the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Donald Trump before the pandemic, said the deaths likely included new mothers who refused to comply with COVID vaccine mandates or who felt fearful of leaving home during lockdowns.

“This spike in deaths among America’s new moms is a national catastrophe that shines a spotlight directly on the unscientific government policies put into place during their pregnancies: lockdowns that stressed families and crushed souls and bodies, as well as the dangerous vaccination policies imposed on pregnant workers desperate to save their livelihoods,” Ms. Talento said.

The maternal death rate was highest among Black Americans. According to the CDC, 69.9 Black women died for every 100,000 live births in 2021, 2.6 times higher than the rate for White women.

Other factors likely included limited healthcare access and growing financial hardships among poorly-educated mothers amid the restrictions, said clinical psychologist Thomas Plante, a member of the American Psychological Association. He said that added to the psychological stress and fear about catching COVID that led many people to delay or avoid routine medical visits.

“The influencing factors may include a wide variety of issues such as education, health care access and insurance, poverty and other matters,” said Mr. Plante, who teaches at Santa Clara University in California. “As we recover from COVID, one would expect that these trends would reverse, but there are so many potential moderating variables that only time will tell.”

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