COLUMBUS, Ohio - With hundreds of women in the U.S. dying each year due to complications from pregnancy, researchers in Ohio are working to learn more about the scope of maternal mortality in the state.
At The Center for Community Solutions, director of public policy and advocacy Tara Britton explains there's been a lot of much-needed focus on the state's high infant mortality rate in recent years, but she says now it's time to put the mother back into maternal and infant health.
"It's important for mothers to be healthy to have healthy babies, and we want to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to make sure that women are healthy before, during and after their pregnancies," she stresses.
Maternal mortality is a broad description of deaths associated with pregnancy and birth, and the latest data shows there were more than 400 pregnancy-associated deaths in Ohio between 2008 and 2014.
Updated data is expected this year, which Britton says will allow researchers to get a clearer picture of the problem in Ohio.
A recent study found maternal deaths in the U.S. rose 26 percent from 2000 to 2014.
Also of great concern, Britton says, is severe maternal morbidity, where a woman is very sick as a result of something that happened during pregnancy.
"This is kind of a scary term but these instances are often called a near miss of a maternal death," she states. "And that figure is much larger: thousands and thousands of women nationally.
"And if these are near misses, what can we learn from them? What can we do to prevent them?"
Ohio has prioritized decreasing the infant mortality rate, which in 2016 was more than seven infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
Britton says many of the strategies used to reduce the rate also could have a positive impact on maternal health.
"During pregnancy, I think it's a little bit more intuitive that the mother and baby's health are linked, and that phase is important to make sure that women have access to health care so that they can enter into prenatal care early to make sure that their pregnancies are healthy throughout," she states.
Ohio has a Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Committee that examines deaths, and Britton says that data is beneficial in learning about past cases of maternal mortality and preventing future ones.