As newborns are reaching incredible new levels of care in neonatal intensive care units in hospitals across North Carolina and throughout the country, a dangerous rise in maternal deaths has given much cause for concern. According to NPR, women in the United States are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related condition than women in Canada.
While maternal mortality rates have fallen dramatically in much of the industrialized world, the rates in the U.S. went up between 2000 and 2014. A recent study shows that of these deaths, nearly 60 percent were avoidable. Lower-income women, African-Americans and those who live in rural communities are the most at risk of dying from a pregnancy-related cause. Some believe that the rise in maternal deaths is due to lack of attention paid to mothers after giving birth, compared to the attention newborns receive. From programs supporting the health of new mothers and children, only six percent of 2016 block grants went towards programs focused on the health of the mothers, compared to 78 percent of grants used for their children. Medicaid, which pays for almost half of all births, covers babies for a full year of life, but only covers women for the 45 days after birth, which can leave women without health care during a time they are at risk.
According to the New York Times, the rise in maternal mortality can be attributed in some ways to chronic health conditions in pregnant women, such as diabetes, which now affects more of the population. These deaths are also more difficult to track, as the maternal period runs from the time a woman is pregnant to a year after the birth of her child, but many deaths occurred within the first six weeks after giving birth. For some women, it is difficult to know if the death was related to pregnancy.