Health Nutrition Research Science

State of the Union: Maternal and Child Health Status in the US

America is a highly developed nation, but our maternal health care is severely lacking. First year NICBC student, Michelle Severs, sheds light on the issues with maternal health care in the U.S. and what might be done to improve the state of pre- and post-natal health.

Long before we mulled over what we wanted to eat, our nutrition was entirely dependent on our biological mothers. A woman’s body will develop a whole new organ to cater to the metabolic and nutrient needs of the fetus growing inside. In order to adequately prepare for and support a pregnancy, women are advised to maintain a healthy weight, consume a variety of foods, exercise regularly, and take prenatal vitamins. half of all pregnancies are unintended Therefore, in some cases, these preparations aren’t enough to prevent life-threatening pregnancy complications.

In the US, births in hospitals do not guarantee a safe delivery. Despite the US’s status as an industrialized nation with a good economy and advanced technology, maternal mortality is a pressing issue. Data from the Maternal Health Task Force at the Harvard Chan School show that between from 12 per 100,000 births to 28 per 100,000 births. The numbers are even more staggering when broken down by race and ethnicity. three to four times more likely to die in childbirth have two times the MMR . In terms of socioeconomic status, a greater risk for maternal mortality.

These troubling statistics are partly due to systemic issues in healthcare, which have been posited as one of the main contributors to disparities in maternal mortality rates. Across the US, there are inconsistencies in obstetrics care. Essentially, there is no standard approach to dealing with pregnancy complications and childbirth emergencies. Other elements of the flawed healthcare infrastructure are the lack of culturally appropriate systems of care and differing qualities of prenatal and obstetric care. Women often feel unheard or ignored during their childbirth experience.

Apart from the issues in healthcare, another pertinent contributor to the rising MMR is chronic disease. Pre-existing heart conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight/ obesity are all associated with an increased likelihood of pregnancy complications for the mother and baby. According to the CDC, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure), and gestational diabetes. Many of these conditions are acute, impacting mother and child right at the time of pregnancy and birth. However, they also pose long-term consequences. Women may continue to suffer from high blood pressure and the inability to lose the weight gained during pregnancy. Children may experience brain and motor development issues as they continue to grow into adolescence and adulthood. With these potential immediate and lifelong effects, it is essential chronic disease outcomes are appropriately mitigated.

Increasing the quality and specialization of care has been posited as one way to combat the growing maternal mortality rates in the US.  Professional midwives are medically trained and certified in providing specialized care during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Midwives offer personalized care in a variety of settings as well, from performing births at home to working alongside obstetricians in the hospital. Another approach to diminishing risk of pregnancy complications is enlisting help from a doula, a non-clinical professional who lends support to mothers before, after, or during pregnancy. Support from doulas can be physical, emotional, or informational. a number of improved birth outcomes Lastly, in order to meet the needs of diverse populations, training in cultural competency, patient-centered care, and health literacy is becoming more common in medical professions.

The health of future generations is dependent on the people who give birth to them, but it is also contingent upon our current policies, practices, and personal behaviors. While a mother nurtures a growing child throughout pregnancy, the proper systems should be in place to ensure the best possible birth outcomes and a healthy start in life. Though the duration of a pregnancy is relatively short, it is instrumental in long-term health. Therefore, not only should we address the issues impacting the current population, but we should also support innovative solutions that optimize the health and well-being of future generations as well.

Michelle Severs is a first-year Master’s student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy where she studies Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change. She also aspires to become a Registered Dietician. When not camped out in the library, she enjoys hiking in the great outdoors, drawing her surroundings, and spending time with family and friends.


The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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