All About Babies

Did You Know It's Safer to Give Birth in Canada than the U.S.?

A new global survey by the World Health Organization shows that the maternity mortality rate in the U.S. has worsened in the last 25 years.

hand with IV holding pregnant belly Shutterstock
The good news? The number of global maternal deaths is down an astonishing 44 percent—303,000 this year compared to 532,000 in 1990, according to a new global survey of maternity mortality conducted by the World Health Organization and co-published by the United Nations and the World Bank.

The bad news? Moms in the U.S. are twice as likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth causes than their counterparts in Canada. In fact, ours is one of just 13 countries whose maternity mortality rate has worsened in the last 25 years. Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Venezuela also earned the dubious distinction. (The safest countries to give birth? Iceland, Finland, Poland, Greece, and Belarus.)

But before you pack your diaper bag, it's important to point out that the U.S. is still a pretty safe place to deliver a child. In 1990, we averaged 12 maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births; this year, it's increased to 14. Meanwhile, Canada has been holding steady all these years at seven. Compare those figures to the world average of 216 deaths or, worse, to sub-Saharan Africa's average of 546 deaths, and the picture becomes a little clearer.

The UN's goal is the "virtual elimination" of a woman's odds of dying from pregnancy or childbirth by the year 2030. In fact, it's aiming for a global average of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births. Still, officials acknowledge that the road ahead won't be easy. Countries will need to triple their progress before success can be declared. Some proposed solutions include increasing the number of midwives in countries with high maternal death rates; making sure pregnant women have access to high-quality health care; identifying potentially fatal pregnancy complications, like preeclampsia; and making info about reproductive health and family planning more easily accessible for women.

Don't forget to sign up to receive our free Parents Daily Baby newsletter

Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.