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People Indicators: Maternal Mortality & Prenatal Care

The U.S. now ranks 50th, alongside third world nations, for maternal mortality, meaning 49 countries are better at keeping new mothers alive (CDC, 2012). Research has shown that approximately 70% of maternal deaths could be averted if women had access to essential maternity and basic health care services (UNICEF, 2012). The women who have babies in our region also do not fare so well. Women in Harris County have a higher risk of dying from complications of pregnancy than in 49 countries in the world (WHO, 2011). For each woman who dies, about 50 experience a severe complication. Black women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy related causes than White women. The CDC’s Healthy People 2020 Goal for maternal mortality is 11.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. In Harris County, for 2007-2009 the maternal mortality rate was 22.8/100,000, double the goal. More below…

While prenatal care is just one factor in maternal and infant health, it is correlated with better pregnancy outcomes and is a common indicator for evaluating and predicting pregnancy outcomes. Infants born to women who do not receive early prenatal care are three times more likely to be born with a low birth weight and are five times more likely to die in infancy.

Prenatal care in the first trimester is an important preventive measure to decrease pre-term births. Pre-term birth (before 37 weeks gestation) is closely linked with low birth weight and is the leading cause of infant mortality. Babies born prematurely are at increased risk for lifelong disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, breathing and respiratory problems, visual problems and hearing loss. Most at risk of having pre-term births are Black and immigrant Hispanic women who are under 20 years of age.

In addition to the human cost, a premature infant incurs almost $50,000 in medical costs in its first year, compared to less than $5,000 for full term infants (March of Dimes, 2008). Hospitalization charges for newborn care in Texas were approximately $6 billion in 2009 (THCIC, 2011).
Sources cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Pregnancy-related Mortality in the United States,” 2012, Retrieved from

March of Dimes Foundation, “The cost of prematurity to employers,” 2008, Retrieved from

Texas Health Care Information Collection (THCIC), “Most Expensive Conditions for Hospitalization by Payer, 2009,” 2011, Retrieved from

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Maternal and newborn health,” 2012, Retrieved from

World Health Organization (WHO), “Maternity Mortality Ratio (per 100,000 live births), Indicator Measurement Registry,” 2008, Retrieved from