img Explainer

Maternal Mortality
ONC Editorial

Sep 06, 2023

Numbers can tell stories just as well as words can.

In 2019, 754 women passed away from complications related to childbirth in the US. In 2020, it was 861. In 2021, 1,205.

What story do these numbers tell?

The causes of increased maternal morality, or the rate at which women die due to childbirth complications, in America remain controversial. How do economic fluctuations impact these rates? Which areas have the highest concentration of deaths? Have recent developments in abortion policy affected maternal mortality? What about broader healthcare policy?

Major health complications, accounting for 75 percent of all maternal deaths, include severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, delivery complications and dangerous abortions.

Other complications, usually factors associated with infections and chronic conditions, may exist before pregnancy and worsen during the nine months of prenatal development.

Low-income and underdeveloped countries account for 94 percent of all maternal deaths in the world. Poverty, long distances to health facilities, lack of education and information, inadequate care and cultural beliefs are just some of the factors preventing pregnant people from receiving or seeking care during their pregnancies or deliveries. 

For instance, more than 90 percent of births benefit from a trained midwife, doctor or nurse. However, poorer regions lack skilled healthcare professionals, resulting in pregnant women receiving lower quality of care than those in higher-income countries. 

Maternal mortality is a complex problem. There’s far more to be said, but hopefully this explainer has given you a good starting point.

Madeline Leung is a junior studying Public Policy and Medical Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She plans to pursue a career in the public health field. She was a healthcare policy intern at ONC in Spring 2022.


Hoyert, Donna L. “Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2021.” The National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, 2021. Updated 23 March 2023. 

“Maternal Mortality.” World Health Organization, 19 Sept. 2019,

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