US maternal mortality rates exceed most other high-income countries

Childbirth and pregnancy are statistically more dangerous for women in the U.S. than in many high-income nations, especially for Black women, according to a report published June 4 by the Commonwealth Fund.

The Commonwealth Fund is a private U.S. company that aims to improve healthcare quality and access through supporting independent research with grants. For this study, the group looked at maternal mortality data across 14 of the world's high-income nations. Among many key revelations, they found that a lack of postpartum care in the U.S. may also be adding to the crisis nationwide and contributing to poorer outcomes. 

A shortage of maternity care providers and midwives is also a factor. 

"The U.S. and Canada have the lowest supply of midwives and obstetrician gynecologists among high-income countries, with only 16 and 13 midwives and OBGYNs total per 1,000 live births, respectively," the report states.

In addition, many of the deaths related to maternal mortality — 80% — are preventable, according to the report. 

"This study provides a bleak picture of how poorly the U.S. is performing when it comes to maternal mortality rates compared to other high-income countries," Munira Gunja, lead study author and Commonwealth Fund Senior Researcher, said in a news release shared with Becker's. "With 80 percent of Black maternal deaths in the U.S. deemed preventable, there is no doubt we are facing a critical public health crisis. It's imperative we invest in evidence-based solutions that improve outcomes and save lives"

Proposed solutions outlined in the Commonwealth Fund's report include: 

  • Ensuring universal access to high-quality primary care.

  • Bolstering the maternal care workforce with an emphasis on midwifery and community-based providers.

  • Providing comprehensive postpartum support, including extending Medicaid coverage for a full year after giving birth.

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