Pregnancy-related mortality surveillance--United States, 1991--1999

MMWR Surveill Summ. 2003 Feb 21;52(2):1-8.


Problem/condition: The risk of death from complications of pregnancy has decreased approximately 99% during the twentieth century, from approximately 850 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1900 to 7.5 in 1982. However, since 1982, no further decrease has occurred in maternal mortality in the United States. In addition, racial disparity in pregnancy-related mortality ratios persists; since 1940, mortality ratios among blacks have been at least three to four times higher than those for whites. The Healthy People 2000 objective for maternal mortality of no more than 3.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births was not achieved during the twentieth century; substantial improvements are needed to meet the same objective for Healthy People 2010.

Reporting period covered: This report summarizes surveillance data for pregnancy-related deaths in the United States for 1991-1999.

Description of system: The Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System was initiated in 1987 by CDC in collaboration with state health departments and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Maternal Mortality Study Group. Health departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City provide CDC with copies of death certificates and available linked outcome records (i.e., birth certificates or fetal death certificates) of all deaths occurring during or within 1 year of pregnancy. State maternal mortality review committees, the media, and individual providers report a limited number of deaths not otherwise identified. Death certificates and relevant birth or fetal death certificates are reviewed by clinically experienced epidemiologists at CDC to determine whether they are pregnancy-related.

Results: During 1991-1999, a total of 4,200 deaths were determined to be pregnancy-related. The overall pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 11.8 deaths per 100,000 live births and ranged from 10.3 in 1991 to 13.2 in 1999. The pregnancy-related mortality ratio for black women was consistently higher than that for white women for every characteristic examined. Older women, particularly women aged >/= 35 years and women who received no prenatal care, were at increased risk for pregnancy-related death. The distribution of the causes of death differed by pregnancy outcome. Among women who died after a live birth (i.e., 60% of the deaths), the leading causes of death were embolism and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Interpretation: The reported pregnancy-related mortality ratio has substantially increased during 1991-1999, probably because of improved ascertainment of pregnancy-related deaths. Black women continued to have a 3-4 times higher pregnancy-related mortality ratio than white women. In addition, pregnancy-related mortality has the largest racial disparity among the maternal and child health indicators. Reasons for this difference could not be determined from the available data.

Public health actions: Continued surveillance and additional studies should be conducted to monitor the magnitude of pregnancy-related mortality, to identify factors that contribute to the continuing racial disparity in pregnancy-related mortality, and to develop effective strategies to prevent pregnancy-related mortality for all women. In addition, CDC is working with state health departments, researchers, health-care providers, and other stakeholders to improve the ascertainment and classification of pregnancy-related deaths.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black People
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Age
  • Maternal Mortality / trends*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / ethnology
  • Pregnancy Complications / mortality*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People