Women’s Health Guide: Maternal Health

Maternal health encompasses prenatal care, pregnancy loss, birth and the postpartum timeframe. Those who are pregnant or seeking to become pregnant require both physical and psychological support in their maternal health journey.

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December 07, 2022

Women make up a large part of our workforce and are lagging behind in some health outcomes. To address this equity issue, employers should address the variety of wellness needs of women through various programs and benefits.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each day over 800 women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes.34 In the U.S. alone, the maternal mortality rate has increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020.35 Globally, Nigeria, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania have the highest number of maternal deaths.36 For example, in Nigeria, one-third of women do not have access to medical care during pregnancy; the most recent data show that about 67,000 Nigerian women die annually from pregnancy-related causes.37,38 In these countries and many others, social determinants serve as barriers to optimal health and health care.39 These barriers include limited transportation options and high out-of-pocket costs.

Racial inequities also play a role in poor maternal and child health outcomes. The U. S. is the only high-income country where maternal mortality is increasing, with Black women experiencing increased poor maternal health outcomes.40,41 Black, Indigenous and People of color (BIPOC) also face higher risks of infant mortality than White people do. This disparity is largely attributed to discrimination and bias Black women face in clinical settings. For example, some non-Black providers believe Black people experience less pain, which often means that their pain isn’t treated.41

Pregnancy loss is also an issue in the maternal health space that more employers are beginning to address. Globally, 10%-15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, and many women experiencing pregnancy loss develop mental health issues due to shame, grief and stigmatization. The South Asian region has the highest pregnancy loss burden in the world.42 Evidence shows that women in this region experience miscarriages due to toxic air and high rates of pollution.42 Maternal-related deaths also occur in the postpartum phase. For instance, in the U.S, 52% of pregnancy-related deaths occur after delivery or postpartum.43

Maternal health care revolves around issues not just prior to pregnancy and while pregnant, but also post-pregnancy. Some employees may face challenges returning to work as a new parent after experiencing pregnancy, which includes “‘intense physical and psychological adjustment’” possibly encompassing postpartum depression, less sleep and physical healing.44

How Can Employers Support Maternal Health for Women Globally?

  • Provide access to and encourage preconception counseling to identify risk factors and early interventions.
  • Incentivize engagement in programs and benefits that aim to reduce maternal risks and mortality, from preconception through postpartum.
  • Consider adding benefits that ensure culturally conscious care (e.g., ability for employees to find and choose providers who match their race, religion and ethnicity).

  • Provide a continuum of affordable supports, such as doulas, midwifes or patient care navigators or platforms.
  • Establish integrated telehealth services that provide multilingual and after-hours advice and care.
  • Provide benefits that address transportation barriers.
  • Ensure that employees have access to and are aware of benefits and resources to support their mental health to help reduce maternal stress.
  • Ensure that pregnant employees have the accommodations and protections they need to be safe at work.
  • Arrange breastfeeding support services for employees postpartum, which could include a travel mailing program to send milk back home, on-site rooms and other programs to assist with breastfeeding challenges.

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