Are maternal morbidity and mortality preventable?

It is hard to answer this question, because the causes of and situations surrounding maternal morbidity and mortality are complex. Because many factors play a role in maternal morbidity and mortality, there is no single way to prevent maternal health problems and deaths.

Improving maternal health could prevent many maternal deaths.1 Knowing about risk factors allows healthcare providers and pregnant women to work together to watch before, during, and after the pregnancy and birth; identify problems; and take steps to fix problems before they become serious. Doing so may reduce the risk of long-term problems and prevent death. Some research suggests that the majority of maternal deaths may be preventable.1

For example, NICHD launched its Pregnancy for Every Body initiative, which educates plus-size pregnant women about working with their healthcare provider to increase their chances of healthy pregnancy and delivery. Pre-pregnancy and prenatal care can also help reduce risks.

But not all problems can be detected before they become serious. Some problems and risks are not related to specific behaviors or chronic conditions and cannot be detected, prevented, or treated. In some cases, serious health problems and deaths may occur without any warning signs, meaning there is nothing a woman or her healthcare provider could do to prevent them.

Research that advances our understanding of pregnancy and childbirth eventually will help improve maternal healthcare, inform treatments, and potentially allow healthcare providers to identify and address complications before they become serious. Learn more at NICHD Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Research Information.

At the same time, healthcare providers, hospitals and health systems, families, and pregnant women are working to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality. Some of these activities include the following:

  • Creating review committees to examine causes of maternal death
  • Sharing safety checklists at hospitals, clinics, and provider offices
  • Improving access to high-quality healthcare
  • Alerting women about signs and symptoms of complications that could become serious

Worldwide, the majority of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, where women have little or no access to healthcare services.1 Reducing maternal mortality and morbidity is a priority for many national departments of health and for international organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO). Read more about WHO efforts to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity external link.

Citations

    1. Petersen, E. E., Davis, N. L., Goodman, D., Cox, S., Mayes, N., E., Syverson, C., & Barfield, W. (2019). Vital signs: Pregnancy-related deaths, United States, 2011–2015, and strategies for prevention, 13 states, 2013–2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(18), 423–429. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6818e1.htm?s_cid=mm6818e1_w.
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