Objectives: I studied the extent to which maternal deaths are underreported on death certificates.
Methods: We collected data on maternal deaths from death certificates, linkage of death certificates with birth and fetal death records, and review of medical examiner records.
Results: Thirty-eight percent of maternal deaths were unreported on death certificates. Half or more deaths were unreported for women who were undelivered at the time of death, experienced a fetal death or therapeutic abortion, died more than a week after delivery, or died as a result of a cardiovascular disorder.
Conclusions: The number of maternal deaths is substantially underestimated when death certificates alone are used to identify deaths, and it is unlikely that the Healthy People 2010 objective of reducing the maternal mortality rate to no more than 3.3 deaths per 100000 live births by 2010 can be achieved. Increasing numbers of births to older women and multiple-gestation pregnancies are likely to complicate efforts to reduce maternal mortality.