WASHINGTON, D.C. - Maternal mortality rates in the United States have increased significantly according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2021, 1,205 women in the U.S. died of maternal causes—a rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is a 40% increase from 861 deaths in 2020, a rate of 23.8.
The numbers are even more staggering for Black women, who have a death rate of 69.9, which is 2.6 times higher than the rate for white women (26.6). Among Hispanic women, the death rate is 28.
According to the CDC, 84% of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable.
With a mission to safeguard the health of this population, WIC is uniquely positioned to play a vital role in improving maternal health outcomes. WIC provides nutrition support during pregnancy and postpartum periods, which is shown to improve the dietary intake of pregnant and postpartum women and; and help pregnant women access prenatal care earlier. WIC participation is also associated with a decrease in the rates of gestational hypertension and pre-term deliveries.
WIC’s combination of healthcare access and nutrition support is critical for addressing maternal mortality and mitigating the substantial racial disparities in maternal health outcomes—particularly for Black and Indigenous women.
The following statement is attributed to Dr. Jamila Taylor, National WIC Association (NWA) President & CEO:
“This dramatic increase in maternal deaths plainly displays a crisis of care within the United States—one that involves a lack of critical interventions for all women, including resources at all levels. It is unacceptable and must be remedied immediately.
“The disparities in outcomes for pregnant women across all demographics are stark, but yet again, Black women in America are experiencing the worst of it. This points to an ever-widening gap in care that disproportionately impacts Black women and families. The pandemic not only exposed but deepened the longstanding inequities for maternal health care in this country, a wide-reaching systemic problem for which there is no simple fix. Rooting this out will not be easy, but it is essential if we are to achieve any modicum of health equity. We must work together to eliminate the systemic racism and discrimination that continue to negatively impact the health and well-being of Black women and all communities of color.
“Nutrition plays a large role in supporting improved maternal health outcomes. WIC’s targeted support can and should be leveraged to reduce the prevalence of risk factors that contribute to adverse maternal health outcomes.
“WIC clinics also serve as a gateway to healthcare, connecting both mothers and children with providers and ensuring continuity of care. This access to quality health care can help mothers recognize key risk factors early and avoid preventable outcomes.
“Although President Biden and Congress have taken steps to address this crisis, including the extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage in many states–it is not enough. We need comprehensive solutions. Bipartisan legislators have called for an increase of WIC's postpartum nutrition support to two years in the Wise Investment in our Children Act (WIC Act), and that concept is included among a more holistic response in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.
“There is no time to waste—Congress must act now. We must address this crisis of care and eliminate the racial disparities that plague maternal health outcomes. NWA is committed to working with all stakeholders to find solutions that create meaningful change, including addressing systemic racism and inequality within the healthcare system, enhancing data collection,and diversifying the WIC workforce to better reflect the communities most harmed by this burgeoning health crisis."
The National WIC Association (NWA) is the nonprofit membership organization for State and local providers of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). NWA is the go-to voice of and for WIC staff at more than 12,000 WIC locations across the country who work to support more than 6.3 million mothers and young children. For over three decades, NWA has worked to build broad, bipartisan consensus for WIC’s programmatic goals and public health mission. NWA provides member-driven advocacy; education, guidance, and support to WIC staff; and drive innovation to strengthen WIC as we work toward a nation of healthier women, children, and their families. Learn more at www.nwica.org.