Gaps in Maternal Care and Knowledge Amid a Health Care Crisis for Women

Two recent studies found substantial gaps in both maternal care and knowledge. These gaps can substantially affect women and children’s health while leading to long term consequences.

Gaps in Knowledge

New survey data from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania found that while much of the public is familiar with some information about staying healthy during pregnancy and having a healthy baby, there are substantial gaps in knowledge about maternal health. The survey, conducted with a nationally representative panel of 1,601 U.S. adults from May 31-June 6, 2023, finds:

  • Just over 1 in 4 people (27%) know that the CDC recommends that pregnant individuals get a Tdap vaccine against whooping cough.
  • Just over half of those surveyed know that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 during pregnancy is safe (52%) and that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 can reduce the risk of complications from the disease (55%) that can affect a pregnancy.
  • Only a quarter of those surveyed (26%) know that a pregnant person who gets the flu is at higher risk of delivering the baby early.
  • Nearly 3 in 4 people (73%) know that having untreated high blood pressure increases the likelihood that a pregnant person will have a stroke.

Gaps in Care

New data from the nonpartisan health advocacy group March of Dimes shows that the U.S. — which already has the worst maternal mortality rate among developed nations — saw a 4 percent decline in hospitals with labor and delivery services between 2019 and 2020. 

 Politico reports that “nationally, about 5.6 million women live in counties with no access to maternity care, according to March of Dimes. Far more, 32 million, are at risk of poor health outcomes because of a lack of care options nearby. March of Dimes considers more than a third of all U.S. counties maternal care deserts, with no access to reproductive health services.”

Experts believe that access to care is likely to worsen in the coming years,  as obstetrics units struggle to stay financially afloat, more people become uninsured, and new anti-abortion laws limit the number of physicians willing to practice in several states. The declining access to maternal care is one reason maternal mortality rates in the U.S are so high and rising, Stacey Brayboy, the senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at March of Dimes said.

“It’s a crisis…Women are struggling to access care, and that’s before and during and after their pregnancies, and we’ve seen an increase in terms of maternal and infant deaths,” warns Brayboy.

Politico’s Alice Miranda Ollstein and Megan Messerly note that “the report relies on data from 2020 and 2021 — before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — and the full impact of state abortion bans on maternal care has yet to be documented. But Tuesday’s report reveals most states that have restricted abortion access since then, or where the procedure remains in limbo pending a court ruling, have seen access to obstetric care decline in recent years.”

“Abortion providers, OB-GYNs, nurse practitioners are being pushed out of certain parts of the country that do have these restrictive abortion laws. That’s having a spillover effect for those that want to continue their pregnancies,” said Jamila Taylor, president and CEO of the National WIC Association.


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