About Maternal Mortality

Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman from complications of pregnancy or childbirth.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathers statistics on pregnancy-related deaths, which include deaths that occur up to 1 year after the pregnancy ends.1 The World Health Organization reports on maternal mortality, defined as death occurring during pregnancy or within 6 weeks after the pregnancy ends.2

Maternal mortality may be caused by a pregnancy complication, a chain of medical events started by the pregnancy, the worsening of an unrelated condition because of the pregnancy, or other factors.3

Recent reports from CDC suggest that women in the United States are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than women in other high-income countries and that pregnancy-related death rates continue to rise.1 Data also show that the risk of pregnancy-related death for black women and other women of color is higher than the risk for white women in the United States.4 Research is needed to better understand the causes of these deaths, the situations that contribute to these deaths, and how to prevent them.

Maternal morbidity is a term often used with maternal mortality. Maternal morbidity refers to unexpected short- or long-term outcomes that result from pregnancy or childbirth. These outcomes can include blood transfusions, hysterectomy, respiratory problems, mental health conditions, or other health conditions that require additional medical care, such as hospitalization and long-term rehabilitation, and that can affect a woman’s quality of life.5

Severe maternal morbidity is a term used to describe life-threatening conditions that are present at delivery. Researchers use 18 indicators, such as kidney failure and fluid in the lungs, to gauge severe maternal morbidity. A recent NICHD-funded study examined changes in severe maternal morbidity in the United States.


    1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm
    2. World Health Organization. (2019). Maternal mortality ratio (per 100 000 live births). Retrieved January 31, 2019, from https://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/indmaternalmortality/en/ 
    3. CDC. (2018). Pregnancy-related deaths. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-relatedmortality.htm
    4. CDC. (2017). Meeting the Challenges of Measuring and Preventing Maternal Mortality in the United States. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/grand-rounds/pp/2017/20171114-maternal-mortality.html
    5. CDC. (2017). Severe maternal morbidity in the United States. Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/severematernalmorbidity.html
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