By Rada Dagher, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Division of Scientific Programs
Clinical and Health Services Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Maternal mortality rates in the United States have reached an all-time high. While these rates have dropped globally in the last few decades1, in the United States, they have more than doubled between 1987 and 20152. The picture is even grimmer for racial and ethnic minority communities, where African American and American Indian/Alaska Native women have the highest maternal mortality rates of all racial/ethnic groups2.
While most of the discussions about the maternal mortality crisis focus on the physical causes of death, the relationship between maternal mental health and mortality rates is largely ignored. For example, postpartum depression leads the list of mental health conditions affecting new mothers, and women experiencing this disorder may have suicidal thoughts and thoughts of harming the baby3. The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic that is causing COVID-19 disease outbreaks is another factor to consider. Due to social distancing, women have much lower access to the usual support systems (e.g. family, doulas) that promote their mental health during the vulnerable period of transitioning into motherhood. Recently published data from China on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests increased rates of postpartum depression4 among Chinese women. Moreover, a recent report from a convenience sample of U.S. mothers of children of ages 0-18 months, shows elevated depression (34.1%) and anxiety (34.6%) rates5. Yet, the currently proposed interventions to address maternal mortality do not consider approaches to prevent and/or treat postpartum depression. One such approach is providing paid leave for new mothers. Continue reading “Can Paid Maternity Leave Help Address Disparities in Maternal Mortality?”