Pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are increasing. Medical, social, economic, and cultural issues have all been implicated in this trend, but few data exist to differentiate the relative contributions of these various factors.
The objective of the study was to examine trends in US pregnancy-related mortality by place of death and maternal race and age. We hypothesized that such an analysis may allow some distinction between deaths related to medical performance and those more closely related to social, cultural, or environmental issues.
We conducted a retrospective, cross-sectional study for the years 2003–2016 using multiple cause-of-death mortality data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Natality Data provided by National Vital Statistics System of the National Center for Health Statistics. Temporal trends analyses for the place of death, race/ethnicity, and age at the time of death were performed using joinpoint regression over the study period.
Approximately one third of pregnancy-related deaths occurred outside a medical facility. The fraction of maternal deaths occurring in inpatient facilities fell by 20% over the study period, from 53% to 44% of all maternal deaths (P < .0001). Maternal deaths in an outpatient facility or emergency room demonstrated a similar decline (24%) in relative frequency (P < .0001). In contrast, there was a significant increase in the relative frequency of maternal mortality in other settings, particularly within the descendant’s home, with a doubling over this time period. However, overall pregnancy-related deaths continued to increase in all settings. These increases were particularly striking in non-Hispanic black and white women and among women in the youngest and oldest age groups.
Against a background of rising US pregnancy-related mortality, stratification of such deaths by place of death and maternal age and race highlights both the need for ongoing improvements in the quality of medical care and the potential contribution of events occurring outside a medical facility to the overall morality ratio. Current trends in pregnancy-related mortality in the United States are, in part, driven by social, cultural, and financial issues beyond the direct control of the medical community.