U.S. maternal-mortality rates spiked in 2021 and the racial gap increased, new data shows

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Deaths of pregnant and postpartum women in the U.S. spiked to a six-decade high in 2021, according to recently released federal data. 

In 2021, 1,205 U.S. women died of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, up from 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The maternal mortality rate for 2021 was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with a rate of 23.8 in 2020 and 20.1 in 2019.

However, maternal deaths in 2022 are on track to fall back to prepandemic levels, officials say. The number of women who died of pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes in 2022 is estimated at 733, based on preliminary data from the CDC, but that figure is expected to be higher after the final data is calculated. 

A maternal death is defined as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes,” according to the World Health Organization. 

The U.S. maternal-mortality rate rose for all races in 2021, but the racial maternal-mortality gap widened. The rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births — 2.6 times the rate for white women and 2.4 times the rate for Hispanic women. Data shows that the Black community was disproportionately affected by COVID-19, due in part to limited resources as well as to negative past experiences that may have led to a lack of trust in the healthcare system.

Pregnant women can also be more susceptible to severe coronavirus symptoms. The CDC has included pregnancy as one of the high-risk underlying conditions for COVID-19. 

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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High-income Black mothers and their newborns have worse health outcomes than their less-wealthy white peers

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