US Tumbles on 'Best and Worst Places for Mothers' List

American women face the same lifetime risk of maternal death as women in Iran.

May 5, 2014, 1:39 PM
PHOTO: The U.S. now ranks 31 out of 178 countries in terms of maternal and children’s health.
The U.S. now ranks 31 out of 178 countries in terms of maternal and children’s health.
Getty Images

May 6, 2014— -- Being a mom in the United States is riskier now than it was eight years ago, a new report found.

Join “The State of Motherhood” Tweet Chat Today at 1 p.m., ET

In 2006, the United States ranked sixth on Save the Children's list of best places to be a mother. But this year, the country tumbled to 31st place out of 178 countries – 13 spots below neighboring Canada.

“In the U.S., the lifetime risk of maternal death has risen more than 50 percent since we launched our first report in 2000 – from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 2,400,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, a nonprofit children’s charity. “Today, an American woman faces the same lifetime risk of maternal death as a woman in Iran or Romania.”

During the same stretch, the U.S. made mediocre strides in saving children’s lives, cutting the risk of death for children younger than 5 years of age by a mere 15 percent, according to Miles. Only 14 countries made less progress in the past 15 years.

Still, the worst places to get pregnant, give birth and raise a child remain war-torn and poverty-stricken countries, according to the report. More than half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur in places plagued by humanitarian crises, such as Somalia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ranks second-to-last on the list, it’s more dangerous to be a woman or child than an armed fighter.

“When disaster strikes, whether it’s a war in Syria, a tornado in Oklahoma or a typhoon in the Philippines, women and children are often at the greatest risk – up to 14 times more likely to die than men,” Miles said.

War-torn Afghanistan, however, offered a glimmer of hope. It ranked the worst place to be a mother in 2010 and 2011, but advanced 32 spots in this year’s ranking – a move largely credited to the country’s investment in midwife training, immunization programs and education policies that allow girls to attend school.

European countries have dominated the list’s top positions for the past 15 years, Miles said, and this year was no exception. Finland was named the healthiest place to be a mother or a child in 2014, followed by Norway, Sweden, Iceland and the Netherlands. Australia, which ranked ninth in this year’s report, has made the top 10 every year since the list debuted.

In top-ranking Finland, fewer than one in 12,000 women die from maternal causes, and the probability of a child dying before the age of 5 is one in 345. In Somali, which placed last on the list, one in 16 women dies from maternal causes and one in seven children fails to reach his or her fifth birthday.

Join “The State Of Motherhood” Tweet Chat Today at 1 p.m., ET

Each day, 800 mothers and 18,000 young children die from largely preventable causes, according to the report.

Join ABC News chief health and medical correspondent, Dr. Richard Besser for a special tweet chat today on the “State of Motherhood.” The chat, co-sponsored by Save the Children, will highlight what it will take to improve the health and well-being of mothers and children in this country – and all across the globe.

Please come share your voice and opinions. Even if you have never been on Twitter before, it’s easy to join the conversation. Here’s how.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events