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Pregnancy, childbirth, and the year postpartum is a time of transformation for the mother or birthing person, the baby and their family.

The innate human capacity of the birthing person to grow, birth and care for a child is on full display. This time can be one of joy, learning, tradition, preparation, connection to family and community support and self- and cultural expression. Maternal death during this time is traumatic, abrupt, and unnatural. It is felt and experienced not only by the family, but by their community and the individuals that cared for them. The loss is both immediate and it endures for years.

Maternal mortality is a sentinel indicator of population health in a nation, state, territory or jurisdiction. It is a measure that signals the health and well-being of women, children, and families and the investment in and priority of that health and the systems that produce it. Each year in the United States, approximately 700 women and birthing people die because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related complication. In 2017, (the most recent data available), the PRMR was 17.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. Most egregiously, the PRMR is marked by significant racial disparities (racial categories as reported by CDC, below):

  • 41.7 deaths per 100,000 live births among Black non-Hispanic women.
  • 28.3 deaths per 100,000 live births for American Indian/Alaskan Native non-Hispanic women.
  • 13.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for Asian/Pacific Islander non-Hispanic women.
  • 13.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for white non-Hispanic women.
  • 11.6 deaths per 100,000 live births for Hispanic women.

This difference in risk of pregnancy-related death is not due to race, but racism. It stems from centuries-old actions that formed the foundation of systems of advantage for white people and systems of disadvantage for People of Color that continue today. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States has a higher risk of death and severe complications related to pregnancy, and consistently ranks the worst in maternal health outcomes. A key part of understanding maternal mortality is to accurately count the deaths, understand the factors that contributed to each death, and identify how they could have been prevented. This is where Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRCs) play an essential role.

pregnant mother illustration


Learn the basics about Maternal Mortality Review Committees and key definitions


Apply tips, skills and best practices for high quality maternal mortality review processes


Explore guiding information and key considerations for the implementation of a review committee