Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. It’s a time to shine a light on the important roles of women in our society, their amazing contributions to the world, and their continued achievements. The day is also a call to action that gives us the chance to reflect on what still needs to be done to protect the well-being of women in our communities. In this country, this includes taking a close look at pregnancy-related health and health care.
Maternal mortality and access to care
Sadly, too many women are dying from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Although other countries around the world have been able to reduce their maternal mortality rates, the rate in the U.S. is still higher than most other high‐income countries. Every year in the U.S., about 700 women die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Among black women, the maternal death rate is more than 3 times higher than for women of other races.
Many of these deaths can be prevented. Getting regular health care before, during and after pregnancy is key to helping women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Unfortunately, access to these services is not available to all women in many parts of our country. Our recent report on maternity care deserts— defined as areas where there are not enough hospitals, health care providers or health care services for pregnant and postpartum women— highlights the problem of access to care in this country. We encourage you to read the full report here.
Near-miss experiences and postpartum health
The U.S. also has high rates of severe maternal morbidity (also called a near-miss). This is when a woman has unexpected and severe complications from labor and childbirth that cause serious short- or long-term health problems. Every year more than 50,000 women in the U.S. have a near-miss.
Some women who’ve had a near-miss then have a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (also called PTSD). This is a severe form of anxiety (strong feelings of worry or fear). Others may have postpartum depression (also called PPD). Because mental health conditions like these can lead to pregnancy-related death, postpartum care is extremely important.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (also called ACOG) released new guidelines calling for changes to improve postpartum care for women. Previously women were advised to have a postpartum checkup 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. Now ACOG states that postpartum care should be an ongoing process, rather than a one-time checkup. All women should:
- Have contact with their health care provider within 3 weeks of giving birth
- Get ongoing medical care during the postpartum period, as needed
- Have a complete postpartum checkup no later than 12 weeks after giving birth
Paid leave for new moms
The weeks after having a baby are important for so many reasons. In addition to physical changes happening in a woman’s body after giving birth, there are lots of emotional changes happening as well. We know that the bond formed between mom and baby is especially important during this time. Women and babies may need time and practice to get comfortable breastfeeding. But not every woman gets that chance.
The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not offer working mothers paid time off to care for a new child. Paid leave is associated with healthier babies after birth and a longer time breastfeeding. The FAMILY Act would set up a national system to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income through a family and medical leave insurance fund.
A call to action
This International Women’s Day you can make a difference. Join our advocacy network and take action to help pass laws and regulations that promote the health of women, children and families. Learn more here: U.S. Congress, Our Families Need Paid Leave!
March of Dimes is leading the fight for the health of all moms and babies.