Maternal mortality rates increased 33% after March 2020 compared with before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a research letter in JAMA Network Open.
The findings revealed the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on mothers in the United States — particularly those from underrepresented populations.
Previous data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) showed a 16.8% increase in overall U.S. mortality in 2020, but maternal mortality exceeded that with an increase of 18.4%, according to Marie Thoma, PhD, an assistant professor of family science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and Eugene Declercq, PhD, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.
The researchers conducted a study to further examine the pandemic’s impact on maternal mortality rates. They used deidentified data from the NCHS to compare rates from January 2018 to March 2020 vs. April 2020 to December 2020.
Compared with rates before the pandemic, Thoma and Declercq found an overall increase of 33% in maternal mortality and a 44% increase in late maternal mortality after March 2020.
When broken down by race, the increase in maternal mortality was 6.1% among white people, but the number jumped to 25.7% for Black people and 44.4% for Hispanic people.
“For the first time in more than a decade, the maternal mortality rate for Hispanic women during the pandemic was higher than that for non-Hispanic white women, a shift that may be related to COVID and deserves greater attention moving forward,” Declercq said in a press release.
In a review of ICD-10 codes with the underlying cause of death, the largest relative increase was for conditions related to COVID-19 (56.9%), such as those coded as other viral diseases (2,374.7%), diseases of the respiratory system (117.7%), and diseases of the circulatory system (72.1%), according to the researchers.
Thoma noted in the release that the increase in maternal mortality was “driven by deaths after the start of the pandemic,” and said that more detailed data are needed “on the specific causes of maternal deaths overall and those associated with COVID-19.” She also offered some hope that the trends may not continue.
“Potentially we could see improvements in 2021 due to the rollout of vaccines, as well as the extension of postpartum care provided for Medicaid recipients as part of the American Rescue Act of 2021 in some states,” Thoma said in the release. “We’re going to continue to examine this.”