News & Commentary

Severe Delivery Complications Soar Among U.S. Pregnant Women


The rates of women experiencing serious and possibly life-threatening complications during child birth soared 45% between 2006 and 2015, increasing from 101.3 to 146.6 per 10,000 hospital deliveries, according to a statistical brief by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Megan Hambrick, a coauthor of the brief and an AHRQ program analyst, didn’t mince words, telling Reuters that the increasing complication rate represents “an urgent public health issue in this country.”

The rates of severe maternal morbidity are measured by looking at 21 indicators. The indictors, chosen by the CDC, include conditions (e.g., renal failure, sepsis) and procedures done at the hospital (e.g., hyster­ectomy, blood transfusion).

The rates of blood transfusion, often a sign of hemorrhaging, increased by 54%, by far the greatest increase for any indicator. The cumulative increase for the 20 other indicators was 24%. In 2015, 121.1 per 10,000 deliveries required a blood transfusion. The next two common indicators were disseminated intravascular coagulation and hysterectomy (both at 11 per 10,000 deliveries).

In addition, a third of deliveries in which the mother went into shock resulted in a hysterectomy.

AHRQ also identified demographic disparities, with the greatest increases in the rates of severe complications occurring in mothers older than 40. Black and Hispanic mothers were also more likely to experience severe complications.

The report mentioned very modest improvement on one front: In 2006 the rate of in-hospital death was 248% higher for black women than for white women, and 50% higher for Hispanic women. By 2015, those disparities had narrowed to 193% and 31%, respectively.