New York — Deaths of pregnant women in the US will fall in 2022, down significantly from a six-decade high during the pandemic, new data suggest. More than 1,200 women in the US died in 2021 during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, according to the latest tally released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022, there were 733 maternal deaths, according to the agency’s preliminary data, though the final number is likely to be higher.
Officials say the 2022 maternal death rate is on track to approach pre-pandemic levels. But that’s not good: The rate was before COVID-19 is the highest it has been in decades.
“From the worst to the near worst? I wouldn’t exactly call that an accomplishment,” said Omari Maynard, a New Yorker whose partner died after giving birth in 2019.
The CDC counts women who die while pregnant, during childbirth and up to 42 days after birth. Excessive bleeding, blockage of blood vessels and infections are the main causes.
COVID-19 can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, and experts believe that this is the main reason for the increase in 2021. Burned out physicians may have added to the risk by ignoring the concerns of pregnant women, some advocates said.
In 2021, there will be approximately 33 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. The last time the government recorded a high rate was in 1964.
What happened “is not hard to explain,” said Eugene Declercq, a longtime maternal mortality researcher at Boston University. “The surge is related to COVID.”
Previous government analyzes concluded that a quarter of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021 were related to COVID — meaning the entire increase in maternal deaths was due to coronavirus infections or the broader effects of health care pandemic. Pregnant women infected with the coronavirus are almost 8 times more likely to die than their uninfected peers, according to a recent study published by BMJ Global Health.
Pregnant women’s bodies are already under strain, their hearts are forced to pump harder. Other health problems can make their condition more fragile. And on top of that, “COVID will make everything worse,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cherot, chief medical and health officer for the March of Dimes.
It didn’t help that vaccination rates among pregnant women were disappointingly low in 2021 — especially among Black women. Part of that is related to limited vaccine availability, and the CDC doesn’t fully recommend shots for pregnant women until August 2021.
“Initially there was a lot of vaccine mistrust in Black communities,” said Samantha Griffin, who owns a doula service that primarily serves families of color in the Washington, DC area.
But there’s more to it than that, he and others add.
The maternal mortality rate is higher in the US than in other developed countries, especially among women of color. The 2021 maternal mortality rate for Black women is nearly three times higher than that of white women. And the maternal death rate for Hispanic American women that year increased 54% compared to 2020, which also exceeded the death rate for white mothers.
Determining the cause of racial disparities poses “one of the greatest public health challenges,” the head of a Harvard task force studying the issue told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last week. summer.
“We see that as a tip of the iceberg of poor health among women and poor health among Black women,” Dr. Henning Tiemeier, the director of Harvard’s Maternal Health Task Force, in the interview, citing factors “from poverty to discrimination to poor care for this group of women.”
More than a year into the pandemic, many doctors and nurses feel burned out and their personal time with patients is reduced.
Providers at the time “had to make quick decisions and maybe didn’t listen very well to their patients,” Griffin said. “Women say they thought something was wrong and they weren’t being heard.”
Maynard, who is 41 and lives in Brooklyn, said he and his partner experienced that in 2019.
Shamony Gibson, a healthy 30-year-old, is due to have their second child. The pregnancy was smooth until her contractions stopped progressing and she underwent a cesarean section.
The operation was more than expected but their son Khari was born in September. A few days later, Shamony began complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath, Maynard said. Doctors told her she just needed to rest and let her body rest from the pregnancy, she said.
More than a week after giving birth, her health worsened and she begged to go to the hospital. Then his heart stopped, and loved ones called for help. The first focus for paramedics and firefighters was whether Gibson was taking illegal drugs, Maynard said, adding that he was not.
He was hospitalized and died the next day from a blood clot in the lungs. Her child is 13 days old.
“She wasn’t being heard at all,” said Maynard, an actress who now speaks engagements as a maternal health advocate.