11 Maternal Health Organizations to Support This Year

Maternal mortality continues to be a major problem the world over. The United States is the only developed country where maternal death rates are increasing especially for non-Hispanic black women. And in low-and-middle income countries, approximately 830 women die each day from pregnancy-related, preventable causes.

Maternal health organizations are working diligently to save more mothers’ lives, but one death is still too many especially when it is likely preventable. I like to list organizations that you can support with donations in order to help them keep more women and their children alive on the local level and make sure mothers are a part of their families’ lives.

This list highlights local organizations that help some of the most vulnerable communities in countries with some of the highest maternal mortality rates. And, in the cases of the United States and Australia, the organizations help the communities that experience the most maternal deaths. Each site allows direct donations that go directly to maternal care and/or advocacy.

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January Is Birth Defects Prevention Month: Are Local Health Departments Ready?

Q&A with NACCHO Board Member Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MPH
Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health

A baby is born with a birth defect in the United States every 4.5 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth defects are defined as any structural changes present at birth that affect how the body looks, works, or both, and they can vary from mild to severe. While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are concrete steps pregnant mothers can take to increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.  In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the CDC released a resource guide providing pregnant moms tips for preventing birth defects.

In addition to guidance provided by CDC, many local public health departments provide prenatal care for expectant moms. Below is Q&A with National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Board Member Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health in Georgia.  NACCHO represents the nation’s 3,000 local health departments.

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U.S. Support of Formula Over Breastfeeding is a Race Issue

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The formula industry has responded to the decline in sales to white women at home by ramping up its marketing to Black and brown women overseas.
(Shutterstock)

Andrea Freeman, University of Hawaii

When the United States threatened Ecuador with trade and aid restrictions if it did not withdraw a World Health Assembly breastfeeding promotion resolution that most people considered benign, if not banal, reactions ranged from shocked to amused.

Experts explained that the U.S. resistance, although extreme, was nothing new. The United States previously demonstrated its allegiance to the formula industry by refusing to sign on to the World Health Organization’s Ban on the Marketing of Breast Milk Alternatives.

This U.S. stance, like its intimidation of Ecuador, flew in the face of near universally accepted medical and scientific research proving that breastfeeding saves lives. Perhaps even more surprisingly, both acts perpetuate an alarming racial divide in breastfeeding rates that leads to significant racial health disparities. American support of the formula industry comes at the cost of the health and lives of Black and brown babies, at home and abroad.

Both the resolution and the U.S. opposition to it stemmed from a decline in formula sales in the United States. The industry has sought to make up for its considerable domestic losses on the global market. The racial aspects of this local-global dynamic are hidden in plain sight.

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Preventers of Maternal Deaths in the US Could Receive Millions in Funding

The relatively large number of American women who die due to childbirth is one of the little-known facts in our country. In a nation where we spend exorbitant amounts on healthcare, we have the highest maternal mortality rate of any other developed country. Word, however, is getting out that women are increasingly susceptible of dying during childbirth with a surge in articles in major publications and of hospitals, healthcare workers, and researchers working together to solve this problem.

According to ProPublica, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted this week to request $50 million in new funding for programs aimed at reducing maternal mortality. $38 million would be allotted to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau which is run by the Health Resources & Services Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading “Preventers of Maternal Deaths in the US Could Receive Millions in Funding”

Recent Thoughts on Global Maternal Health

As an ardent supporter and advocate for maternal health, I am always happy to share my thoughts about the issue with a wider audience. I recently shared my thoughts with Merck for Mothers,  a 10-year $500 million initiative supporting women during pregnancy and childbirth. RT if you agree with @JenniferJames. We must work to #EndMaternalMortality. pic.twitter.com/UXKNyE3rdb — Merck for Mothers (@MerckforMothers) May 16, 2017 If you … Continue reading Recent Thoughts on Global Maternal Health

Despite Differences in Culture, US and India Fall Short in Childbirth in Similar Ways

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Woman in labor, shown with monitors. 

Neel Shah, Harvard Medical School

After eight years of practicing obstetrics and researching childbirth in the United States, I know as well as anyone that the American maternal health system could be better. Our way of childbirth is the costliest in the world. Our health outcomes, from mortality rates to birth weights, are far, far from the best.

The reasons we fall short are not obvious. In medicine, providing more care is often mistaken for providing better care. In childbirth the relationship between more and better is complicated. Texan obstetricians, when compared to their counterparts in neighboring New Mexico, are 50% more likely to intervene on the baby’s behalf by performing a cesarean section. Nonetheless, Texas babies still have a lower survival rate than New Mexican babies.

I long assumed that our most puzzling American health care failures were idiosyncrasies–unique consequences of American culture, geography, and politics. But a trip to India for the 2017 Human Rights in Childbirth meeting led me to a humbling realization: when it comes to childbirth, both countries fall short in surprisingly similar ways.

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Neel Shah, center, pictured with Jishnu Das, a Lead Economist at the World Bank and Leslie Page, President of the Royal College of Midwives. Neel Shah, Author provided

Human rights in childbirth

I take care of patients in at a well-funded teaching hospital in Boston, where pregnant women seem well-respected and have clear, inviolable rights.

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10 Organizations and Birth Centers That Save Black Mothers’ Lives #MaternalHealth (Updated)

Updated June 2020 Today as we celebrate and commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here are seven organizations and birth centers that are helping save the lives of black women during pregnancy, childbirth and after childbirth. All maternal mortality and morbidity data in the United States report the same thing: black women die in disproportionately high numbers when compared to non-Hispanic white women. In fact, … Continue reading 10 Organizations and Birth Centers That Save Black Mothers’ Lives #MaternalHealth (Updated)

9 Facts We Learned in 2016 About Maternal Mortality in the United States

Texas has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. (Source) In Texas, cardiac events, overdose by licit or illicit prescription drugs, and hypertensive disorders are the leading causes of maternal death. (Source) White women had the highest rates of diagnosed mental illness of any kind (depression as well as other psychological illnesses) in Texas during pregnancy and the puerperium; Black women had … Continue reading 9 Facts We Learned in 2016 About Maternal Mortality in the United States

The Troubling Truth About Maternal Mortality in the United States

When everyday Americans think about women dying during childbirth it is probable that their initial thoughts travel directly to Africa where it is quite well known that maternal mortality is rife. Chances are their thoughts never focus on the deaths and near deaths during childbirth that women experience right here in the United States. After all, the overwhelming consensus is that the United States has the best medical care, superior health workers and health system in the world despite some of its inherent challenges. This thinking renders maternal mortality in the US thoroughly inconceivable to many even while data reveal it should not be inconceivable at all. In fact, maternal mortality is on the rise in America having doubled over the past 25 years all while global maternal deaths are steadily declining. Globally, maternal mortality was effectively reduced by 44 percent according to the World Health Organization.

The United States, while not the overall leader in maternal mortality among all countries, it is the leader among all developed nations. The United States ranked number 33 out of 179 countries in Save the Children’s 2015 Mothers’ Index Ranking and 46th in the world due to the rate of women who die from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Compared to other developed countries, the United States’ ranking is abysmal, especially with Norway, Finland, and Iceland ranking in the top three overall. Even countries like Estonia and Belarus, whose GDPs are considerably lower than ours, far outrank America.

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NYC Report Tackles Maternal Morbidity Rates

For years researchers who study maternal morbidity and mortality have been stumped as to why rates continue to rise and why women of color are adversely affected despite education, health care, and socio-economic factors.

A new report and the first of its kind released in May, New York City 2008 – 2012: Severe Maternal Morbidity, shows the myriad reasons why women of color, especially low-income, Black non-Latina, women fare the worse with severe maternal morbidity (SMM). While most studies in the past across the country focus on maternal mortality, this report focused on maternal morbidity, the causes of maternal mortality.

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Maternal Health Heroes: Interview With Christy Turlington Burns #MHHSS

We are excited to publish our fifth interview in our Maternal Health Heroes Summer Series with Christy Turlington Burns, Founder of Every Mother Counts. Throughout the summer we will speak with some of the most notable maternal health advocates in the world ahead of the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference that will be held in Mexico City between October 18 – 21, 2015. Follow the conversation at #MHHSS.

C_TURLINGTON-14 Christy Turlington Burns is a mother, social entrepreneur, model, and founder of Every Mother Counts. As a result of her global advocacy work she was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014, Glamour Magazine’s Woman of The Year in 2013, and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative Minds in 2013.  Christy is a member of the Harvard Medical School Global Health Council, an advisor to the Harvard School of Public Health Board of Dean’s Advisors and on the advisory Board of New York University’s Nursing School. She holds a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies and has studied Public Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. A four-time marathon finisher, Christy resides in New York City where she lives with her husband, filmmaker Edward Burns, and their two children.

Jennifer James: We are impressed that you are helping to spread the word about maternal health and mortality in the Unites States. When did it occur to you that there is a maternal health crisis in America?

Christy Turlington Burns: Soon after experiencing a childbirth complication following the delivery of my first child, I learned that hundreds of thousands of pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths occur around the world every year.  Yet, up to 98 percent of those deaths are preventable. Once I knew about these shocking statistics, I had to know why this was happening. This led me to make a documentary film, “No Woman, No Cry,” which examines the state of maternal health in four countries Tanzania, Guatemala, Bangladesh and the United States. While making the film, I learned that while 99% of these global deaths occur in developing countries, we lose three women per day in the U.S. too.

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Maternal Health Heroes: Interview With Dr. Priya Agrawal #MHHSS

We are happy to publish our second interview in our Maternal Health Heroes Summer Series with Dr. Priya Agrawal, Executive Director of Merck for Mothers. Throughout the summer we will speak with some of the most notable maternal health advocates in the world ahead of the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference that will be held in Mexico City between October 18 – 21, 2015.  Follow the conversation at #MHHSS.


Speaking with Dr. Priya Agrawal, Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, for this latest interview in our Maternal Health Heroes Summer Series, I instinctively realized that she is not only a gifted communicator with a passion for women’s health, but also an infectious advocate for safe motherhood both in the United States and worldwide.

Merck for Mothers, a 10-year, $500 million initiative aimed at reducing maternal mortality, was launched in 2011 and initially set robust goals to reduce women’s deaths during childbirth in low- and middle-income countries. Like many in America, Merck for Mothers failed to initially realize at the time that maternal mortality in the United States is a persistent problem that is steadily worsening. In fact, that line of thinking is quite understandable given most of the 800 women who die every day during childbirth live in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

The good news for women living in low- and middle-income countries, however, is maternal mortality has drastically been reduced by 45 percent since 1990, a marked change despite the future reductions that still need to occur during the Sustainable Development Goals era. Sadly, in the United States the numbers are not improving.  “The United States is the forgotten child when it comes to maternal mortality,” Agrawal mentions. “We learned very quickly that even in our backyards we had to do something. Maternal mortality has more than doubled in the United States. The trend is going in the wrong direction.” Given the amount of money spent on health care in the United States, we experience the highest maternal mortality ratio than any other developed country in the world.

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Featured Video: Giving Birth in America

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There seems to now be a true movement underway to bring to light the high maternal mortality rate in the United States and the true state of giving birth in America especially for poor women and women of color.

Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother and that funds US-based maternal health care providers, just announced the trailer of their new docuseries, Giving Birth in America.

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5 Historic Photos of Southern, Rural Midwives

From time to time I like to look back into history and share photos I find in the Library of Congress archives. I have done that previously with breastfeeding, newborn health, and tuberculosis. Today, I am sharing photographs I found of rural midwives in the south.

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Delano, Jack. Midwife in doorway of her house. Near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia. 1941 May. Reproduction Number: LC-USF34-044303-D (b&w film neg.)
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Delano, Jack. Midwife wrapping her kit to go on a call in Greene County, Georgia. 1941 October. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-fsa-8c29209 (digital file from original neg.) LC-USF34-046569-E (b&w film nitrate neg.)

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