SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – More than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, according to 2017 to 2019 data from Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRCs).

MMRCs are “representatives of diverse clinical and non-clinical backgrounds” who review the circumstances around pregnancy-related deaths to identify recommendations to prevent future deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says information from MMRCs in 36 U.S. states on leading causes of death by race and ethnicity can be used to “prioritize interventions” that can save lives and reduce health disparities.

“The report paints a much clearer picture of pregnancy-related deaths in this country,” said Wanda Barfield, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “The majority of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable, highlighting the need for quality improvement initiatives in states, hospitals, and communities that ensure all people who are pregnant or postpartum get the right care at the right time.”

Among pregnancy-related deaths, 22% of deaths reportedly occurred during pregnancy, 25% occurred on the day of delivery or within seven days after, and 53% occurred between seven days to one year after pregnancy.

According to the CDC, the leading underlying causes of pregnancy-related death include:

  • Mental health conditions — including deaths to suicide and overdose/poisoning related to substance use disorder (23%)
  • Excessive bleeding — hemorrhage (14%)
  • Cardiac and coronary conditions — relating to the heart (13%)
  • Infection (9%)
  • Thrombotic embolism — a type of blood clot (9%)
  • Cardiomyopathy — a disease of the heart muscle (9%)
  • Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy — relating to high blood pressure (7%)

The leading underlying cause of death reportedly varied by race and ethnicity. Cardiac and coronary conditions were the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths among non-Hispanic Black people, while mental health conditions were the leading underlying cause for Hispanic and non-Hispanic White people, and hemorrhage was the leading underlying cause for non-Hispanic Asian people.

The CDC says American Indian or Alaska Native people are disproportionally impacted by pregnancy-related deaths. Based on a review of these populations, mental health conditions and hemorrhage were the most common underlying causes of death, accounting for 50% of deaths with a known underlying cause. A huge percentage (93%) of pregnancy-related deaths among these populations were determined to be preventable, with about 64% of deaths occurring between seven days to one year after pregnancy.

More than half (53%) of pregnancy-related deaths happen up to one year after delivery, according to the CDC. The organization says it is critical for all healthcare professionals to ask whether their patient is pregnant or has been pregnant in the last year to inform diagnosis and treatment decisions.

Prevention recommendations include “wider access to insurance coverage to improve prenatal care initiation and follow-up after pregnancy, providing opportunities to prevent barriers to transportation to care, and the need for systems of referral and coordination.”

Click here to learn about state strategies for preventing pregnancy-related deaths.

Click here for information on ways to support people who are pregnant and postpartum.