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UM professor's research shines light on maternal mortality

woman getting ultrasound of stomach
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A new analysis of data on maternal mortality in the U.S. has some surprising findings.

Maternal mortality has climbed since the late 1980s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But a research team led by a University of Michigan medical professor found that hospital deaths during childbirth actually fell by more than half from 1995 through 2015.

Yet the rates of pregnancy-related hospital deaths in the U.S. remained unchanged during that time. Looking at more recent data from 2017-2019, the researchers found that a little over half of all maternal deaths now occur before birth or during the post-partum period.

“It’s important to note that it appears progress has been made in lowering the rate of maternal death at the time of childbirth,” said Dr. Lindsay Admon, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School, OB-GYN at University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, and the study’s lead author.

“At the same time, we know that maternal mortality continues to increase in the U.S.," Admon said. "To further lower rates of maternal death occurring in the hospital, we need to focus not only on the time of delivery but also examine risks and complications occurring during antenatal and postpartum hospitalizations as well.”

The study does not delve into why more people might be dying during the pre- and post-birth period. But these findings should spark “a renewed focus on examining the causes of in-hospital maternal death during pregnancy periods other than delivery,” said Admon.

Leading causes of pregnancy-related death include cardiovascular conditions, infections and sepsis, and hemorrhage. In 2020, 861 women died of pregnancy-related complications, with Black women dying at almost three times the rate of their white counterparts. Michigan averages around 90 maternal deaths each year.

The team’s findings were published in JAMA Network Open, an online medical journal.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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