In the United States, the number of women who die during childbirth is higher than it’s been in nearly three decades. Researchers now estimate that for every 100,000 births in the U.S., there are 18.5 maternal deaths. This translates into almost 800 delivery-related deaths in 2013. The U.S. is just one of eight countries to see this rise in maternal mortality in the past decade. The cause for the increase is not known, but researchers believe there may be a combination of influencing factors.

The Figures

It is now more dangerous to give birth in America than it is in China, Saudi Arabia, and The United Kingdom according to the new study. The U.S. is number 60 out of 180 countries for maternal deaths. That's much lower than where it was in 1990, at 22, and according to USA Today, it puts America on the same level as Belize and El Salvador for maternal mortality rates. Afghanistan, Greece, and several countries in Africa and Central America have also seen similar rises in their maternal mortality. In contrast, many countries in east Asia and Latin America have seen drops in their rates.

In the world, half of all maternal deaths occur more than a day after childbirth, some occurring up to a year later — 55 percent of maternal deaths in the U.S. occur this late. In information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease and infections are listed as conditions with the highest maternity mortality rates. Anesthesia complications have the lowest.

Why?

According to The Washington Post, the cause for this increase in maternal mortality is not entirely clear. One reason may be that there are not more women dying, but rather better reporting of maternal deaths. Nicholas Kassebaum, led researcher on the study, explained that deaths during childbirth are often underreported and mischaracterized in the coding that appears on the death certificate.

Another reason for this increase may be attributed to an increase in the number of pregnant women who have diseases that contribute to high-risk pregnancies. These include conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. “It certainly seems plausible that one of the underlying causes is that more mothers are ill when they start their pregnancies,” Kassebaum told USA today.  Kassebaum feels that the rise could also reflect the performance of the health system as a whole, as well as poor access to essential health care, as reported by UPI.

How To Lower The Rates

Siobhan Dolan, a medical adviser at the March of Dimes, said that the best way to prevent complications in birth is for women planning pregnancies to see their doctors before they conceive. “So many of these complications are preventable," Dolan told USA Today.

Improvement of techniques for treating conditions that cause maternal death during childbirth, such as obstructed labor and hemorrhaging may also lower the high rate of maternal deaths.

Source: Kassebaum NJ, Bertozzi-Villa A, Coggeshall MS, et al. Global, regional, and national levels and causes of maternal mortality during 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet. 2014