How Healthy Are American Mothers?

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A mother’s health affects her whole family.If you’re a woman living in the U.S., then you might want to know these statistics: every day, two women die from pregnancy-related causes. The younger the mother, the more serious the disease. American mothers under the age of 15 are more likely to die during pregnancy than other mothers. And while the U.S. is a country that many people aspire to live in, to achieve the great “American Dream,” it falls much short of other countries when it comes to maternal health. According to the latest State of the World’s Mothers report, the U.S. ranks thirtieth in maternal health.

It’s a ranking that the U.S. must improve on, considering maternal health plays a key role in determining the likelihood that a child will develop and avoid the infant death that strikes 11,300 American babies every year.

While the developing world is where the majority of newborn deaths occur, the U.S. doesn’t fare much better on other factors of maternal health. Newborn babies are better off in some developing world countries, like Egypt and Turkey.

MORE: What obese mothers pass on to their kids

“A baby’s first day is the most dangerous day of life—in the United States and countries rich and poor,” the report points out. “The United States has the highest first-day death rate in the industrialized world. An estimated 11,300 newborn babies die each year in the United States on the day they are born. This is 50% more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined.”

A number of different factors play a role in the U.S.’s poor maternal health and infant death rates, compared to the majority of countries in the industrialized world, including:

  • Fewer planned pregnancies
  • Teen birth rates: More teenagers in the U.S. have children compared to every other industrialized country. These mothers are often poor, uneducated, and do not have the means to take care of themselves during pregnancy.
  • Higher pre-term birth rates: The report notes that “the U.S. preterm birth rate (one in eight births) is one of the highest in the industrialized world (second only to Cyprus). In fact, 130 countries from all across the world have lower preterm birth rates than the United States.”

These statistics paint a grim picture for women in the U.S. After all, poor maternal health says a lot about the country we call home—and will affect more than just the mother.

A mother’s poor health will affect the health and lifespan of her children, her family, and, ultimately, society at large. When healthy women are prevalent in society, “children stay in school longer, overall disease and death rates decrease and communities become stronger,” note key researchers.

That’s why the time for change is now—and is appropriate with Mother’s Day coming up this weekend. The report recommends that health care policymakers, in the U.S. and around the world, improve access to education (educated girls are less likely to become teenage mothers, and are more likely to be healthier when they do become mothers), improve access to care (decreasing the first-day death rate of infants can be done for three dollars, according to the report), and increase support for mothers after childbirth. It will make the difference between life and death for the most important people in our lives.

“Mom’s health is key to family health,” ABC News web site, May 9, 2013;, last accessed May 9, 2013.
“Surviving the First Day: State of the World’s Mothers 2013,” May 2013;, last accessed May 9, 2013.
Fox, M., “More US babies die on their first day than in 68 other countries, report shows,” April 30, 2013;, last accessed May 9, 2013.