Begin Main Content Area

​​​​Maternal Mortality

Maternal mortality is devastating for families and communities worldwide.  In Pennsylvania specifically, a large disparity exists between white and African American women for maternal mortality. Unfortunately, mortality is just the tip of the iceberg: for every woman who dies, there are more women who just barely survive. 

What is Maternal Mortality?

Maternal mortality is a death of a woman during pregnancy, or up to one year following the end of the pregnancy, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy. Maternal mortality applies in cases of livebirth, stillbirth, abortion and miscarriage. When describing maternal mortality, deaths are divided into the following categories:

Pregnancy-Associated Deaths: the death of a woman during pregnancy, or up to one year following the end of the pregnancy, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy.

  • Pregnancy-related death: the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of the end of a pregnancy - regardless of the outcome, duration or site of the pregnancy - due to a pregnancy complication, a chain of events initiated by pregnancy, or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy-associated, but not related death: the death of a woman during pregnancy or within one year of pregnancy from a cause that is not related to pregnancy. These are deaths from accidental or incidental causes, such as a death due to a natural disaster.

While we have some data about maternal mortality there is a lot that we do not know. To better understand maternal mortality and how to prevent these deaths, Pennsylvania established the Pennsylvania Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PA MMRC) to review all pregnancy associated deaths in the commonwealth.

What is a Maternal Mortality Review Committee (MMRC)?

A MMRC is a group of professionals and partners who serve pregnant and postpartum women, and who collectively review these deaths and examine factors that led to the death. The goal of a MMRC is to determine if the death is related to the pregnancy and if it could have been prevented. The committee then provides recommendations that could prevent future deaths and protect the health and well-being of women during and after pregnancy.

Pennsylvania Maternal Mortality Review Committee

In 2018, the PA MMRC was established by Act 24 to confidentially conduct a multidisciplinary review of maternal mortality in Pennsylvania. Under the act, the Department of Health has authority to appoint members to the committee and maintain a minimum committee representation. It also allows the committee to consult with relevant experts or stakeholders.

The PA MMRC reviews de-identified summaries of all pregnancy-associated deaths in the commonwealth, regardless of cause of death and including drug-related deaths, homicides, and suicides. The committee determines if the death was related to the pregnancy, identifies contributing factors, determines if the death could have been prevented, and makes recommendations to prevent future deaths. A death is considered preventable if the committee determines that there was at least some chance of the death being avoided by one or more reasonable changes to patient, family, provider, facility, system and/or community factors.

The PA MMRC works closely with the Philadelphia MMRC, which reviews deaths of Philadelphia mothers. The Philadelphia MMRC is housed within the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Division of Maternal, Child and Family Health. The Philadelphia MMRC began in 2010 and is made up of representatives from every labor and delivery hospital in Philadelphia, as well as diverse disciplines.

The Maternal Health Crisis in the US and Pennsylvania

  • About 700 people die from pregnancy-related complications each year in the U.S.1
  • In 2018, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for the U.S. was 17.3 per 100,000 live births2
  • For each maternal death that has occurred nationally, nearly 100 people have experienced a severe health problem from being pregnant and/or giving birth.3
  • Compared to White people, American Indian/Alaska Native and Black people are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause1
  • The maternal mortality rate for Pennsylvania from 2015-2019 was 10.9 per 100,000 live births4
  • According to the Maternity Care Deserts Report published by the March of Dimes, 7.6% of counties in Pennsylvania are maternity care deserts. A maternity care desert is any county in the United States without a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care and without any obstetric providers.5
  • In Pennsylvania, 24.2% of counties do not have full access to maternity care. 193,245 Pennsylvanians in need of maternity care live in these counties.

View more information and resources to support healthy pregnancies.