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Maternal Mortality and Morbidity

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The Wisconsin Maternal Mortality Review (MMR) Impact Team has published the Fall 2023 Issue Brief: The Importance of Increasing Social Support and Curbing Isolation, P-03496. (PDF)

This brief is the first in a series the MMR Impact Team will continue to release for external organizations and people to use to inform their maternal health programming and advocacy. This issue brief addresses the critical issue of maternal health social support and isolation, highlighting its impact on the well-being of expecting and new mothers. Social support plays a crucial role in promoting positive maternal health outcomes, while isolation can lead to detrimental effects on mental and physical health. The Wisconsin MMR Impact Team chose this topic for this issue brief because “social support and isolation” was often identified as a contributing factor in reviewed maternal death cases.

Maternal mortality and morbidity are key indicators of maternal health and health care quality in Wisconsin.

Every maternal death represents not just the loss of a woman’s life, but the impact of that loss on her family and community. Instances of severe maternal morbidity can be traumatizing for women and families, have lasting health consequences, and result in avoidable medical expenses.

Though maternal health in the United States has improved greatly during the past century, recent increases in pregnancy-related deaths and significant racial disparities in maternal health demonstrate the need for systematic improvements in the care of pregnant women and mothers.

One measure of maternal mortality is the pregnancy-related mortality ratio (PRMR) or the ratio of pregnancy-related deaths to live births. “Pregnancy-related death” refers to the death of a woman while pregnant or within one year of pregnancy termination (i.e., birth, miscarriage, or elective abortion) - regardless of the duration and site of the pregnancy - from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. Deaths from accidental or incidental causes are not considered pregnancy-related.

During 2006-2010, the PRMR in Wisconsin was 5.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the U.S. ratio of 16.0. Though Wisconsin routinely reports a lower PRMR than the nation, the disparity between Black and White women in Wisconsin is greater. During 2006-2010, the PRMR among non-Hispanic Black women was 5.0 times the PRMR among non-Hispanic White women in Wisconsin. During the same period, the PRMR among non-Hispanic Black women in the U.S. was 3.2 times that among non-Hispanic White women.

Maternal deaths constitute only a small fraction of the serious health issues that women experience during the perinatal period. Severe maternal morbidities (SMMs) or so-called “near misses” make up a much larger proportion of adverse maternal outcomes. SMMs include complications resulting from or exacerbated by pregnancy, such as renal failure, eclampsia, and sepsis. National data suggest that the burden of SMM is increasing, possibly due to demographic factors and pre-pregnancy health conditions.

In Wisconsin, hundreds of women experience one or more severe maternal morbidities during a delivery hospitalization each year. During 2009-2013, at least 1 out of every 100 delivery hospitalizations resulted in at least one SMM. SMM rates were highest for women younger than 20 years of age, women 35 years of age and older, and non-Hispanic Black women. The most common types of SMM in Wisconsin were blood transfusions, disseminated intravascular coagulation, heart failure during surgery, operations on the heart, hysterectomy, and eclampsia.

Given the substantial burden of maternal morbidity and mortality and the persistence of racial disparities, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services supports the in-depth investigation of maternal death incidents through the MMR Team. The MMR Team is part of Wisconsin’s broader effort to use comprehensive fatality reviews, such as Child Death Review (CDR) and Fetal and Infant Mortality Review (FIMR), to inform public health prevention.

Wisconsin also investigates perinatal health issues by participating in the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS). PRAMS is an ongoing survey of new mothers conducted in partnership with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). PRAMS examines the attitudes and experiences of women before, during, and shortly after pregnancy.

Findings from these investigations and other research suggest that quality in maternal health care can be maintained through regionalized systems of perinatal care. Regionalization ensures that the highest-risk pregnant women and infants receive care in facilities well-equipped to manage them. The Wisconsin Association for Perinatal Care (WAPC) leads a self-assessment process to help hospitals identify their level of perinatal care and makes these designations available to the public.

In 2015, a statewide Perinatal Quality Collaborative was established to advance evidence-based practices and quality improvement initiatives related to the care of pregnant women and mothers. The Wisconsin Perinatal Quality Collaborative provides a platform for perinatal care providers and public health professionals to coordinate efforts to address critical maternal health issues


Banner with pregnant belly HEAR Hear Her concerns. Help prevent pregnancy-related deaths

Women know their own bodies better than anyone and can often tell when something does not feel right.

Two adults holding hands with: HEAR Hear Her concerns

Women who are pregnant or postpartum need our support. Partners, friends, family, coworkers, and providers—anyone who supports pregnant and postpartum women—can all help just by listening when she tells you something doesn’t feel right. Acting quickly could help save her life. Learn about the urgent warning signs and other life-saving information.

Wisconsin’s Maternal Mortality Review Team at the Department of Health Services is working with CDC to promote the Hear Her campaign, which supports our commitment to healthy pregnancies and deliveries for every woman. Visit the CDC’s Hear Her campaign website to hear compelling stories from women, get ideas for developing social media and doing other promotions to get out this important message.

Learn more: CDC Maternal Mortality

Learn more about the MMR Team

Learn more about the MMR Team and their mission

Learn more about MMR Team members

Contact the MMR Team

Last revised September 28, 2023