Women who become pregnant face an unexpected danger in the U.S.: maternal mortality. Complications from pregnancy, labor and childbirth result in the death of an estimated 700 to 900 women each year — a rate higher than any other developed Western nation.

An investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that “while maternal mortality is significantly more common among African-Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S.”

And, these deaths are largely preventable according to the nonprofit CDC Foundation.

From the NPR/ProPublica report:

The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the U.S. are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error.

Yet the worsening U.S. maternal mortality numbers contrast sharply with the impressive progress in saving babies’ lives. Infant mortality has fallen to its lowest point in history, the CDC reports, reflecting 50 years of efforts by the public health community to prevent birth defects, reduce preterm birth, and improve outcomes for very premature infants. The number of babies who die annually in the U.S. — about 23,000 in 2014 — still greatly exceeds the number of expectant and new mothers who die, but the ratio is narrowing.

For the first installment of our series Beyond Mother’s Day, we bring together medical experts, activists and those who have lost loved ones to share perspectives on the problem of maternal mortality and how they are working toward solutions.


  • Carol Hogue Professor of epidemiology and Jules and Uldeen Terry Chair in Maternal and Child Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University; former director of the reproductive health division, Centers for Disease Control; @EmoryRollins
  • Charles Johnson Founder, 4Kira4Moms Foundation; @4kira4Moms
  • Dr. Jamila Perritt Obstetrician/gynecologist; @reprorightsdoc
  • Rachel Zaslow Midwife and doula; executive director, Mother Health International, which runs the Sisters Keeper Collective, a doula organization; @MotherHealth1
  • Dr. Elliott Main Medical director, California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative; clinical professor, obstetrics and gynecology, Stanford Medicine; @cmqcc

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