Aug 22, 2023 - Health

Childbirth has gotten deadlier for California mothers

Data: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation; Map: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Maternal mortality rates in California more than doubled over the past two decades, according to a recent JAMA study that provides the first state-level breakdowns by ethnic group.

Driving the news: Though California has one of the lower maternal death rates nationally, the worsening impact is especially stark for people of color.

  • American Indians and Alaska Natives had the largest increases nationally and in California, while Black mothers experienced the highest maternal death rates.

By the numbers: The total number of deaths per 100,000 live births in California increased from 8.7 to almost 18.4 between 1999 and 2019.

  • Broken down by race and ethnicity, such deaths in California rose from 14 to nearly 40 among American Indians and Alaska Natives and more than 32 to about 49 among Black people.
  • The figure jumped from 9 to 15 among Hispanic mothers, who made up the largest group giving birth in San Diego County between 2019 and 2021.
  • Among Asians, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, the number increased from 10 to 19 and rose from nearly 8 to more than 19 among white people, researchers found.

Zoom in: In San Diego County, more than 120 mothers died during childbirth or up to a year post-delivery over the past 20 years, according to the county's Health and Human Services Agency.

  • The maternal mortality rate increased overall from 12.7 to 14.5 between 2002 and 2021.
  • Locally, a nonprofit called For the Village, has helped dozens of mothers by providing free and low-cost doula services, particularly for people of color, LBGTQ and low-income families. Research suggests using doulas can improve birth outcomes, especially among minorities.

Details: Common causes of maternal death include mental health conditions (including death by suicide and overdose related to substance use disorder), hemorrhages, blood clots, high blood pressure and cardiac and coronary conditions.

Of note: In 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the California Momnibus Act, aimed at improving the survival rates Black and Indigenous people during childbirth.

  • In addition to funding research, the bill expands access to doulas and midwives and extends Medi-Cal health insurance coverage to a full year postpartum for lower-income mothers.

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