The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is raising awareness about the potential mistreatment of and discrimination against women receiving maternity care during pregnancy and delivery in the United States.
The federal health agency said the quality of maternity care is important to address because it could help reduce pregnancy-related deaths.
It comes on the heels of a survey finding some women reporting a perception of being mistreated during maternal care as well as disparities seen by race/ethnicity and insurance types.
"We've been saying for some time that too many women die during and after pregnancy in this country," Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC's chief medical officer, said during a press conference Tuesday. "We know that most pregnancy related deaths are preventable more than 80% and that women from some racial and ethnic minority groups are more affected than others."
She continued, "This is unacceptable. We know mistreatment and discrimination can have an impact ton maternity care. We have to encourage respectful maternity care."
Houry described respectful maternity care as preventing mistreatment, communicating effectively and providing care equitably.
Dr. Wanda Barfield, director of the CDC division of reproductive health, said during the press conference that women feeling like they aren't being heard or that they're being mistreated could prevent them from seeking care if they are worried something is wrong.
"As a doctor, mother, and Black woman, it is disheartening to hear how common mistreatment is," she said in a statement.
"We know that racism and discrimination can lead to delays in treatment and sometimes tragic and preventable deaths," Barfield said. "Healthcare provider trainings on unconscious bias and culturally appropriate care may be a first step in understanding how to provide respectful maternity care to all women."
The CDC stressed this is especially important because maternal mortality rates have been increasing in the U.S. and continued through the COVID pandemic, data shows.
In 2021, the latest year for which data is available, 1,205 women died of maternal causes in the U.S. with a rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births.
This is compared with a rate of 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020 and 20.1 per 100,000 in 2021, according to the CDC.
Maternal mortality rates for Black women have been historically higher than rates for white women, a trend that continued through 2021. The maternal mortality rate was 69.9 per 100,000 for Black women, 2.6 times higher than the 26.6 per 100,000 for white women, according to the latest data.
Maternal mortality rates for Hispanic women overtook those of white women for the first time in 2021, with Hispanic women seeing rates of 28 per 100,000.
The CDC encouraged ways for health care systems to rescue pregnancy-related deaths including by encouraging a culture of respect by hiring diverse staff and having unconscious bias and stigma training.
Houry also said it's important to promote shared decision-making among patients and doctors, improved communication with patients and being culturally aware. She added that doulas and midwives may help improve patient experience by supporting women during pregnancy and delivery.
The CDC also promoted its Hear Her campaign, which has resources for providers and for pregnant and postpartum women about what warning signs to look for so that life-receiving care can be received right away.