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New CDC data says most U.S. pregnancy deaths are preventable. A Peoria doctor provides perspective

In this photo illustration, a pregnant woman is seen standing at an office desk in London, England.
In this photo illustration, a pregnant woman is seen standing at an office desk in London, England.

Almost 80% of pregnancy-related deaths could have been prevented.

That's according to a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control.

The data comes from a 2017-2019 study from Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRCs). Those include representatives with both clinical and non-clinical backgrounds who review the circumstances in which pregnancy-related deaths occur to make recommendations for future prevention.

The report states that among pregnancy-related deaths with information on timing, 22% of deaths occurred during pregnancy, 25% occurred on the day of delivery or within 7 days after, and 53% occurred between 7 days to 1 year after pregnancy.

Among these cases, the report says that there are a variety of underlying causes of death, such as mental health conditions, excessive bleeding, heart conditions, infection, blood clots, high blood pressure, and more.

The data concluded that the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in this study were mental health conditions, including deaths to suicide and overdose due to a substance abuse disorder.

It was also found that underlying causes varied based on race and ethnicity. Native Americans were found to have been disproportionately impacted by pregnancy-related deaths. The CDC put out a second report that details these details as well as including statistics regarding Black and Hispanic populations.

Michael Leonardi, the Director of Obstetrics at OSF St Francis Medical Center and a high risk obstetrician, says that the U.S. is the only developed country in which maternal mortality rates are increasing.

“I think it's human nature that we always look for a simple solution to a complex problem. And the problem of maternal mortality is complex," he said.

He also said the Peoria community has an advantage because of the access to reliable resources people have.

“Hospitals that do trauma and do heart surgery, have blood banks and anesthesia, people in house and things like that can be part of a team or process to rescue pregnant women. So that's an advantage to women delivering in Peoria,” he said. “The downside to it, from the perspective of the healthcare system, is women who are at high risk for these sorts of complications are preferentially brought to Peoria to deliver because of those resources.”

MMRCs and doctors like Dr. Leonardi will continue to analyze maternal mortality and work to provide the resources necessary to prevent more deaths in the future.

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Isabela Nieto is a student reporting intern at WCBU. Isabela is also a student at Bradley University in Peoria.