Is The Maternal Death Rate Crisis In The US Based On Data Errors?

The finicky issue of maternal mortality and death reporting

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd
6 min readMar 26, 2024
Pictured: Maternity. The wonders of pregnancy. My wife tells me it was, um, an experience. Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

For the last decade, it has been fairly well-acknowledged that the United States is having a crisis with maternal mortality, which is broadly defined as deaths that are caused or contributed to by childbirth and pregnancy. Most estimates suggest that maternal mortality rates in the US are not just bad — they’re getting worse every year. Indeed, based recent CDC reports, maternal mortality seems to have nearly doubled in the last 5 years alone.

But a recent scientific study appears to cast doubt on this idea. As headlines have been saying, a new paper casts doubt on the claim that maternal mortality has increased sharply in the last two decades in the US. In fact, the data may show that the rate hasn’t shifted since way back in 2001. The original reporting from the Washington Post even argues that the US maternal mortality crisis may simply be a case of mistakes in the data.

Except, that’s not quite true. What the new study seems to show is that using different ways of analyzing maternal mortality statistics gives us different answers as to how bad the situation in the US really is. It’s possible that the crisis really is real, but it’s also possible that some of the massive increase is…