Maternal mortality rates are declining globally, but did you know it’s rising in the US?

An astonishing 60,000+ women per year experience near death due to complications of pregnancy or childbirth. To put that into perspective, that’s approximately one woman every 10 minutes.

Merck for Mothers, an organization working to reduce preventable maternal mortality and to standardize healthcare women receive during the duration of childbirth, is working to decrease the US numbers of maternal deaths.


We sat down with Katherine Schwarzenegger, a strong advocate for women’s health, and Dr. Priya Agrawal, executive director of Merck for Mothers, to further discuss maternal mortality rates and how we can bring awareness around this issue.

What inspired you to get involved with Merck for Mothers?
Katherine: I became aware of the issue of maternal mortality when I was in high school. As a woman, I felt a little embarrassed that I didn’t know about the issue of maternal mortality. It’s something that I’m interested in spreading awareness about because I think so many women don’t know that it’s such a big issue, especially in America. I feel lucky to be working with Merck.

Why should millennials care about maternal mortality rates and how can they help?
Katherine: I think any woman should care about this issue. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s your responsibility as a woman to be aware of this issue if you want to have kids or if your friends want to have kids. You need to be aware of the complications you can experience during pregnancy and after childbirth. I think as a young woman in the millennial generation, we have an amazing opportunity with social media to make people aware of how important this issue is.

Dr. Priya: I was just reflecting on something Katherine said — we don’t talk about empowerment. Our generation has the information and knowledge is power. It’s empowering to know that “I’m going into this informed and I can do something.”

Why are standard approaches in medical facilities not helping with mortality rates in the U.S and how is Merck for Mothers going to change this?
Dr. Priya: Despite the hundreds of billions we spend on child-related care, we don’t know about maternal mortality. There’s been so much complacency in this country about maternal mortality being an issue in countries like Africa and Asia.

First, not every maternal death was being counted. Now we have programs in 12-16 states and hope that all states will fully investigate a maternal death so the mistake doesn’t happen again.

Second, we don’t have standardized care. Variation in care leads to poor outcome. We funded five states to ensure every hospital has standardized care and the US government is scaling that up to 10 states. Our vision is every hospital will have standardized care.

Third, we have more diabetes and high blood pressure than we’ve ever had before. We need to make sure that when people plan their pregnancies, they enter pregnancy healthier with the help of doctors and others.

What specific changes can U.S. citizens expect to see in regards to protocol, specifically in California?
Dr. Priya: You can already get standardized care in 120 hospitals in California. Every maternal death is being counted. Care is safer. And we’re developing community models to make sure people who have chronic diseases get better care in the community. The other thing in California we introduced is a discharge checklist. When women leave a hospital, they will have a laminated color checklist to put on their refrigerator that [lists out] the warning signs. Highest risk for maternal mortality in this country is after you deliver your baby. That’s when you really need to be aware of warning signs so you know when to go back to the hospital.

xx, The FabFitFun Team