The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have released numbers for maternal deaths during pregnancy and while the numbers are still lower in the United States than other countries, the rate is higher than experts would like to see. A total of 14.5 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies were reported between 1998 and 2005.

The increased rate of death during pregnancy may not be related to pregnancy related complications at all. The CDC found that many of the cases were related to pre-existing conditions such as heart disease. Deaths linked to specific pregnancy related complications like high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia are actually on the decline.

The study included more than 4,500 deaths reported during pregnancy. The definition of death related to pregnancy included deaths that specifically occurred during pregnancy or within the 12 months following pregnancy if the cause of death was somehow linked to pregnancy.

The CDC noted that the number of pregnancy related deaths in 1979 was reported as 11 per 100,000. By 1986, that number had plummeted to just more than 7 per 100,000. There is a possibility that the rising number has more to do with stricter reporting guidelines or improved communication between doctors, hospitals and the CDC.

There is also a clear racial divide in reported pregnancy related deaths. Women of African American heritage are at higher risk of death during pregnancy with the rate reported as 37.5 per 100,000 compared to just 10.2 per 100,000 for Caucasian women.

Source: Cynthia Berg MD, MPH; William M Callaghan MD, MPH; Carla Syverson CNM, MN, MPH; Zsakeba Henderson MD. Obstetrics & Gynecology. December 2010.