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Study: Suicide, Overdose Among Leading Causes of Maternal Mortality

Study: Suicide, Overdose Among Leading Causes of Maternal Mortality

New research finds that overdoses and suicides were among the most common reasons for mothers dying within a year of giving birth in California. The findings suggest women should continue receiving care well beyond current standards.

For the new report, scientists from Michigan State University and the University of California, Merced, studied more than 1 million California hospital records from 2010 to 2012 to investigate the most common causes of postpartum death. Interestingly, while maternal death rates during and after pregnancy are on the rise in the United States, California is below the national average.

Lead author Dr. Sidra Goldman-Mellor, a psychiatric epidemiologist at UC Merced, and co-author Dr. Claire Margerison, a perinatal epidemiologist at MSU, discovered drug overdose was the second leading cause of death among California mothers within the first year after giving birth, and suicide ranked seventh.

Together, the two causes made up nearly 20 percent of all California postpartum deaths in those years. Risk of postpartum mortality due to drug overdose and suicide was higher among non-Hispanic white and low-income women. The study appears in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“These deaths are rare but devastating for families,” Margerison said. “We need to place more emphasis on prevention.”

While both researchers agree that two years of data is not enough to identify trends, the study could be a jumping-off point for future work into drug- and suicide-related issues surrounding maternal health. The research could also be indicative of what’s happening across the U.S.

“Reducing maternal mortality is a priority in the U.S. and worldwide,” Goldman-Mellor said. “Drug-related deaths and suicide may account for a substantial and growing portion of maternal deaths, yet information on the incidence of and sociodemographic variation in these deaths is scarce.”

Mortality rates have declined in recent years in California because of concerted efforts to improve quality of care, but the researchers pointed out that their data shows mental health and substance use issues are still affecting a large number of new mothers.

“Most of these deaths occur in the second half of the year after birth,” Goldman-Mellor said.

It’s because of this, Margerison added, that the later postpartum period is an important time to continue providing women with substance use and mental health resources.

One reason contributing to these deaths might be the stigma and potential legal repercussions that remain around admitting to and getting help for substance abuse or psychiatric problems, especially among new mothers, Goldman-Mellor said.

The researchers, who studied epidemiology together as graduate students at UC Berkeley, said they plan to work together to learn more about this and other topics surrounding maternal health outcomes.

Goldman-Mellor said further studies could deepen researchers’ understanding of why certain women faced higher and/or lower risk for postpartum death due to drug overdose or suicide, including potentially important factors related to their socioeconomic status, health care access and cultural sources of support.

Source: Michigan State University

Study: Suicide, Overdose Among Leading Causes of Maternal Mortality

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Study: Suicide, Overdose Among Leading Causes of Maternal Mortality. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 13 Jun 2019 (Originally: 13 Jun 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 13 Jun 2019
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