The first task in pregnancy mortality surveillance is comprehensively identifying pregnancy-associated deaths. Typically, pregnancy-associated deaths are identified by a state’s Office of Vital Records (the official name of this office varies by state). Vital records (birth and death certificates) are the primary sources for identifying pregnancy-associated deaths.
The Office of Vital Records identifies maternal death cases using birth and death certificates in the following ways:
In 2003, the CDC National Center for Health Statistics released revised standards for live birth, death, and fetal death certificates. The revision of the standard death certificate included a set of pregnancy-status checkboxes with five options: Not pregnant within the past year, pregnant at time of death, not pregnant but pregnant within 42 days of death, not pregnant but pregnant between 43 days and one year before death, and unknown.
Vital records offices use the options selected by death registrars on death certificates. From there, death registrars identify potential pregnancy-associated deaths for review by the committee. States are in various stages of implementation of the pregnancy checkboxes. Additionally, some jurisdictions have reported inaccurate use of the checkboxes among death registrars. Therefore, maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs) are encouraged to partner with their Office of Vital Records to use additional means of identifying pregnancy-associated deaths to ensure no deaths are missed.
Vital records offices, along with maternal and child health epidemiologists, can link death certificates of reproductive-aged women with other vital records, such as birth certificates and fetal death certificates. These records are linked by common information that is found on both the death certificate of the woman and the birth certificate of the baby (e.g. the name on the death certificate for the reproductive-aged woman and the name of the mother on an infant birth certificate that was registered within one year of the woman’s death). Vital records offices or epidemiologists can maintain an ongoing linked dataset through computerized databases. This method is perhaps the highest quality method for identifying deaths of women during the childbirth hospitalization or in the year after having a live birth or fetal death.
In addition to identifying maternal deaths through vital records, MMRCs may use additional methods for case identification.