A Fact Sheet
• The World Health Organization reported in 2007 that 40 other countries
have lower maternal death rates than the United States.
• The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that there has been no
improvement in the maternal death rate in the United States since 1982.
to three times that reported in vital statistics records because of
underreporting of such deaths. (1)
mortality problem is grossly understated.” (2)
to be rising in the United States. In 1982, the rate was approximately 7.5
deaths per 100,000 live births. By 2004, that rate had risen to 13.1 deaths
per 100,000 births. By 2005, the rate was 15.1 deaths.
• The CDC estimates that more than half of the reported maternal deaths
in the United States could have been prevented by early diagnosis and
• Autopsies should be performed on all women of childbearing age who die
if there is to be complete ascertainment of maternal deaths.
autopsy is done, it reveals an undiagnosed cause of death.
• Reporting of maternal deaths in the United States is done via an honor
system. There are no statutes providing for penalties for misreporting or
failing to report maternal deaths.
about 4 times higher than among white women. For 2005, the rate was 36.5
deaths per 100,000 live births.
a different definition of “maternal death”, which, unlike the United States’
definition, includes those deaths directly related to pregnancy or birth
which take place during the period between six weeks postpartum and
one year after the end of pregnancy.
preventing maternal deaths.
(England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland), which has functioned since
1952, is the system believed to have achieved the most complete
ascertainment of maternal deaths while guaranteeing utmost
confidentiality. See http://www.cemach.org.uk/
for vaginal birth and is still twice as high when it is a routine repeat
cesarean section without any emergency. (3,4)
review at a state level.
employees are required to keep such information to themselves.
100,000 births. This is a goal that other nations have achieved.
1. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, September 4, 1998, Vol. 47, No. 34.
2. Atrash HK, Alexander S, Berg CJ. Maternal mortality in developed
countries: Not just a concern of the past. Obstet Gynecol 1995;86:700-5.
3. Petitti D et al. In hospital maternal mortality in the United States. Obstet
Gynecol, Vol 59, pp. 6-11, 1982.
4. Petitti D. Maternal mortality and morbidity in cesarean section. Clin Obstet
Gynecol, Vol. 28, pp. 763-768, 1985.
5. The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths in the United Kingdom
Prepared by Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM
Coordinator for the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project
149 Apple Orchard Lane
Summertown, TN 38483