Maternal health

Maternal health refers to the health of women and childbearing people during pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-natal months. Despite overall improvement in maternal outcomes since 1990, disparities remain.

Photo by Anushree Fadnavis, Reuters.

Over 2 million deaths were caused by maternal and neonatal disorders worldwide in 2021.
80% of the world’s maternal deaths occurred in only 30 countries, including 7 of the world’s 8 most populous countries.
40% fewer women died during pregnancy and childbirth between 2000 and 2021, compared with 7% between 1990 and 2000, likely reflecting increased attention and funding for maternal health sparked by the United Nations’ (UN) Millennium Development Goals.
59% fewer women died from hemorrhage (the leading cause of maternal death worldwide) in 2021 than died in 1990.

Key findings

Fewer women and childbearing people die now than they did in 1990.

In 1990, nearly 22 million DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) were observed globally due to maternal disorders. By 2021, that number had fallen to about 12 million DALYs.

However, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are on the rise in some locations. Injuries, infections, and conditions like hemorrhage and eclampsia can leave women with long-term health challenges.


Explore maternal health data

line chart showing declining DALYs from maternal disorders between 1990 and 2021

Maternal hemorrhage remains the most common cause of death and injury among pregnant people.

But its incidence has lessened over the past 30 years. In 1990, about 114,000 women died because of maternal hemorrhages. By 2021, that number had fallen to about 47,000.

Patterns of maternal disorders vary by age. Recognizing risks associated with different age groups can help improve outcomes for all.


Explore the data

bar chart showing maternal hemorrhage is the greatest contributor to maternal deaths, and overall maternal deaths have decreased since 1990

There are notable inequities in maternal death rates among different groups in the United States.

In the US, evidence suggests that unlike other high-income countries, maternal disorders and death are increasing. In 2019, twice as many maternal deaths were observed as in 1990.

Read the research on maternal deaths in the US

Maps showing disparities in rates of maternal death by race and ethnicity in the US

Which groups are most affected by maternal deaths in the United States? 

Maternal deaths are increasing at disparate rates across different populations and states, which has worsened existing inequities. Comprehensive estimates of maternal mortality ratios (MMRs) do not yet exist, but a study from IHME/Mass General Brigham found evidence that from 1999 to 2019, MMRs were higher for American Indian and Alaska Native and Black populations than among Asian, Hispanic, White, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander populations, possibly due to structural and interpersonal racism. 

Black populations had the highest maternal mortality ratio. The highest rates of maternal mortality were found in northern Mountain states, the Midwest, and the South.

Interactive data visual

See where progress has been made in reducing maternal deaths.

line chart showing declining maternal deaths in nearly all regions of the world

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