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Rural Health Information Hub

Defining Maternal Health

Maternal health refers to a woman's health and well-being before, during, and after pregnancy and encompasses aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and social health. The World Health Organization defines maternal health as:

“the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period.”

Maternal health also includes the absence of maternal morbidity, severe maternal morbidity, and maternal mortality. Maternal morbidity refers to health conditions that complicate pregnancy and childbirth or that have a negative impact on a woman's health and well-being. Severe maternal morbidity (also called acute maternal morbidity) refers to outcomes of labor and birth that result in significant negative short- or long-term consequences to a woman's health. Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman directly related to complications of pregnancy, birth, or within 12 months of giving birth.

Resources to Learn More

CMQCC Maternal Quality Improvement Toolkits
Provides a series of six toolkits developed for healthcare providers, clinical staff, educators, and hospitals to guide efforts to prevent death among pregnant and postpartum women from the leading causes of maternal morbidity and mortality, and to decrease the harm to infants from obstetric procedures.
Organization(s): California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC)

Framing Maternal Health in Rural America
Addresses the state of rural maternal healthcare in the U.S.
Organization(s): Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
Date: 6/2019

Health Disparities in Rural Women
Describes the health disparities affecting women in rural areas. Discusses obstetric and reproductive health outcomes, access to health services, and women's health specialty provider shortages. Identifies initiatives addressing women's health disparities and offers recommendations to obstetricians and gynecologists for reducing health disparities in rural women.
Organization(s): Committee on Healthcare for Underserved Women, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Date: 2/2014

Healthy Women, Healthy Pregnancies, Healthy Futures: Action Plan to Improve Maternal Health in America
Action plan outlining steps the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is taking to reduce maternal mortality and address disparities that endanger women before, during, and following pregnancy. Addresses rural considerations throughout.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Date: 12/2020

Listening to Mothers Reports and Surveys
A repository of datasets, analysis methods, and reports obtained from population-based surveys spanning 2002-2018 of women and their maternity experiences. The focus is on mothers' experiences, attitudes, beliefs, preferences, and knowledge on a broad range of topics ranging from maternity care, family, and employment life.
Organization(s): National Partnership for Women & Families

Maternal and Child Health in Rural United States: Updates and Challenges
Explores the factors affecting maternal and child health from a rural perspective including health status, healthcare access, chronic stress, poverty, and racial and ethnic health disparities.
Author(s): McMaughan, D., DeSalvo, B., & Creel, L.
Citation: Rural Healthy People 2020: A Companion Document to Healthy People 2020, 1(9), 119-126.
Organization(s): Southwest Rural Health Research Center
Date: 2015

Maternal Health Care Is Disappearing in Rural America
Magazine Article
Discusses obstetric unit closures in rural America and the implications on maternity care for rural communities.
Author(s): Fina Maron, D.
Organization(s): Scientific American
Date: 2/2017