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Why We Need to Improve Prenatal Care for Mothers in the United States

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Lisa F. Waddell, M.D., M.P.H.

Senior Vice President, Deputy Medical Officer, March of Dimes

“Racial and ethnic disparities in preterm birth and maternal death are persistent and unacceptable.”

Mothers and babies in the United States face higher rates of premature birth and death due to pregnancy and childbirth than other countries with similar resources. The preterm-birth rate is on the rise nationwide and in many states.

Daunting numbers

Approximately 50,000 women face life-threatening complications from labor and delivery, and 700 women die each year in the United States due to pregnancy-related causes. Racial and ethnic disparities in preterm birth and maternal death are persistent and unacceptable. 

As a physician, I know that many of these problems can be traced back to disparities in our health-care systems, including unequal access to care and unequal quality of care. Other inequalities stem from factors in our homes, our workplaces and our communities.

Identifying and treating medical conditions before, during and after pregnancy is essential to preventing deaths and injuries among moms and babies as part of the continuum of care needed by all women of childbearing age. This requires a commitment to high-quality health care and enhanced quality and safety initiatives in hospitals, particularly those that address disparities and structural barriers to care experienced by women and babies of color.

Educating mothers

An exciting and proven approach to preventing premature birth and improving care for moms-to-be is group prenatal care — a model of care that brings pregnant women with similar due dates together for prenatal care and education with their obstetric provider in a group setting. The March of Dimes has developed a cost-effective model of group prenatal care — called supportive pregnancy care (SPC) — that health systems and care providers can customize to fit their local needs and resources. SPC promotes skill-building for pregnant women and empowers them to take an involved approach in their healthcare. We believe SPC can improve both mom and baby health, improve health equity and increase provider satisfaction with prenatal care.

Lisa F. Waddell, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Vice President, Deputy Medical Officer, March of Dimes, [email protected]

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