New research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday points once again to a troubling increase in the number of women who are dying either during or shortly after childbirth. According to Reuters Health, that increase is becoming especially prevalent among minority women, who accounted for 62 percent of all childbirth-related deaths between 1993 and 2006.
For decades, the number of women who were dying from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes was declining, and in much of the world that is still the case. In May, the United Nations Population Fund issued a joint report with the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, and UNICEF that stated that the rate of maternal death worldwide was half what it was just 20 years ago.
Yet in the U.S., the rate of maternal death has steadily climbed within that same time frame. It is still relatively low, at approximately 16 per 100,000 births. But in 1993, that rate stood at less than 11 per 100,000 births, according to the Reuters report.
The fact that the rate is significantly higher among minority women is even more troubling. The Reuters report stated that the rate of maternal death for black women now stands at between 32 and 35 per 100,000. Comparatively, the maternal death rate for white, Asian, and Hispanic women is closer to 10 per 100,000.
Doctors have pointed to a number of reasons that the general maternal mortality rate is on the rise, including the increased number of women who are overweight or obese, and therefore may have other health issues, as well as the increase in the number of babies being delivered by C-section. A report by the Associated Press in 2007 cited the fact that C-sections now account for an average of 29 percent of all births nationally. C-sections come with an increased risk of developing complications such as infections or blood clots, among others.
In terms of the racial disparity between the maternal mortality rates of white and minority women, doctors believe a number of factors may be to blame. The Reuters report on Friday quoted Dr. Allison Bryant of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who said that the disparity may be due to several factors, including "minority women's lack of access to good pregnancy care." She also theorized that the disparity in maternal mortality rates was indicative of a larger health care problem, specifically "a much broader problem in terms of disparities in medicine."
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, who frequently covers health and nutrition news.