US has highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations: Study

June 4, 2024

The United States continues to have the highest rate of maternal deaths among wealthy nations despite a dip in the rate at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

A new report from The Commonwealth Fund compared the U.S.’s maternal mortality rate of about 22 deaths per 100,000 live births to those of other high-income nations in Europe, Asia, South America and Oceania. 

The analysis found that the U.S.’s current rate, which was calculated using 2022 data, was still far higher than those in other similarly well-off countries.  

Nordic countries and Switzerland had the lowest maternal mortality rates out of the 17 countries included in the report, with Norway reporting zero maternal deaths in 2022.  

In the U.S., Black women are at the highest risk of dying from maternal causes, with a maternal mortality rate of more than twice the national average, the report shows.  

More than 60 percent of maternal deaths occur after delivery, with two out of three of those deaths taking place in the postpartum period, which starts a day after delivery and ends a year after giving birth.  

Severe bleeding, high blood pressure and infection are the most common causes of maternal deaths during the first week of the postpartum period, the report notes, while heart muscle disease is the leading cause of death in the following postpartum weeks and months.  

Most of these deaths — nearly 80 percent — are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While the number of maternal deaths is lower in 2022 than in earlier years—primarily because there are fewer COVID-related maternal deaths—the United States faces continuing challenges in reducing maternal mortality,” the report reads.  

The report also found that the U.S. has the second-lowest number of midwives and ob-gyns per live births among high-income nations, something researchers believe is contributing to the country’s high maternal mortality rates.  

Chile has the largest supply of ob-gyns and midwives with 92 providers per 1,000 live births, while in the U.S. there are 16 ob-gyns and midwives for every 1,000 live births, according to the report.  

“Our findings suggest that an undersupply of maternity providers, especially midwives, and lack of access to comprehensive postpartum support, including maternity care coverage and mandated paid maternity leave, are contributing factors,” researchers wrote in the report. “Because both these factors disproportionately affect women of color, centering equity in any future policy changes will be a key to addressing the crisis.”