Report Finds the U.S. is Failing its Mothers

Save The Children's latest report on the global state of motherhood puts the U.S. in 33rd place, down from last year and below most developed countries. Here's why.

Report Finds the U.S. is Failing its Mothers Pressmaster/Shutterstock

America might be the land of prosperity and opportunity, but when it comes to the wellbeing of our mothers we have a very long way to go, according to Save the Children's 2015 State of the World's Mothers report. Out of 179 countries, the U.S. ranked the 33rd best place to be a mom, two spots lower than last year and far behind many other developed countries such as Japan, France, Italy, Spain, and Australia.

The report evaluates the best and worst places to be a mom, taking into account factors like maternal health, children's wellbeing, economic status, political status (measured by women's role in national government) and education (measured by the number of years a child is expected to have formal schooling). Norway ranked first, followed by Finland and Iceland. Somalia ranked last.

"All mothers deserve a chance to have a healthy pregnancy and child, and all babies deserve a healthy start to life, regardless of whether they are born to royalty or in a city slum," says Lani Crane, a health and nutrition specialist for Save the Children, an organization that focuses on protecting children around the world. "The United States should be doing much better regarding these matters. This report is certainly a wake up call."

Related: Is America Finally Giving New Moms a Break?

What's particularly surprising is that while the U.S. fared better when it came to economic status and education (9th and 16th respectively), the country ranked 61st for maternal health, the worst of any developed country in the world. Women in the U.S. have a 1 in 1,800 risk of maternal death related to pregnancy or childbirth, compared to 1 in 12,000 for women from countries that ranked in the top 10. "The United States has some of the best health care in the world, so it's surprising we have such high maternal mortality," Crane says. The U.S. also ranked 42nd in children's well-being and 89th for political status.

The theme of this year's report by Save the Children was "The Urban Disadvantage", examining the infant mortality rates in the capital cities of 25 wealthy countries. Again, the findings were an eyeopener: Washington D.C. came in last— about 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, three times the rate of Stockholm and Tokyo. "For children in big cities around the world, we find that it's truly a matter of survival of the richest," says Crane. "The children in the poorest wards [neighborhoods] in D.C. had as much as 10 times the risk of dying their first year of life as compared with those children in the wealthiest ward in D.C."

Related: Closing the Gap: Why Black Infants in the U.S. Are More Than Twice as Likely to Die as White Babies

The good news is we have made some strides in recent years. For instance, despite the fact that D.C. ranked last among other capitals, the city did cut the infant mortality rate in half within the last 15 years. That significant progress is due to the fact that the local government recognized the problem and partnered with health care providers and other local entities to address physical and social factors that contribute to infant mortality, such as maternal obesity, smoking, and access to prenatal care, Crane says. Of course, this is just one part of the country, but there's a lesson to be learned for the entire nation. "When looking at both maternal and infant mortality, many of the root causes are related to poverty," Crane says. "We have to address the vast inequities between the rich and the poor."