Pregnant bellies are so comforting

This year, Rhia Ventures released From Here to Maternity: The Business Case For Strong Maternal Health Care Coverage And Benefits In The Private Sector. The groundbreaking report details the potential for attractive returns from private companies’ investments in their employees’ health. It illustrates the importance of well-funded, inclusive maternal health care to a company’s financial success, from preconception to post-delivery. From Here to Maternity provides a framework for managers, recruiters, and human resource professionals to design and implement worker retention policies that drive equitable outcomes.  

The study highlights that U.S. private insurance covered the costs for nearly half of the 3.8 million births in 2018. Childbirth is expensive as it is the most frequent cause of pre-pandemic hospital stays in the U.S. Costs dramatically rise without proper preventive care, especially among preterm births, which are the most expensive pregnancy-related costs. Infants born before 37 weeks of gestation incurred average health care costs of more than $75K during the first six months of life (with costs soaring over $600K for those born at 24 weeks). Support systems such as doulas or midwives dramatically reduce these adverse pregnancy outcomes and expenses but are rarely covered by private industry insurance.

The incidence of adverse health care outcomes is worse for women of color. In 2018, the rate of preterm birth among Black mothers was 50% higher than the rate of preterm birth among non-Hispanic white mothers. Black infants were 3.2 times more likely than non-Hispanic white infants to die from complications related to low birth weight.

The report also demystifies a common birthing intervention with high costs and fatal risks. It found that C-sections are necessary for only 10 to 15% of births, yet 1 in 3 women deliver by C-section. Not only are these procedures used far more than necessary, but they also increase morbidity five times that of vaginal birth. 

The consequences of unnecessary C-sections impact businesses, too. In 2017, private insurers paid 34% more for C-sections than for vaginal births. Infections and other complications typically associated with C-sections often result in more extended recovery periods, lengthening maternity leaves, and increasing costs. The report underscores the many incentives businesses stand to gain when they prioritize health procedures that are safe and beneficial to mothers.

Companies stand to lose $47 billion in recruiting and training new workers when women leave the workforce due to insufficient paid family leave or supportive policies in the workplace. Simple solutions to address these financial losses exist. Over two-thirds of American women want better support for breastfeeding at work, yet only 40% of new mothers have a private space for pumping and break time. The disparity was stark when factoring in race: only 14% of Black and Hispanic mothers had both. Even though paid leave empowers employees to remain faithful to their jobs and families, From Here to Maternity reports that only 20% of private-sector employees have access to it in 2020.  The lack of access to paid leave contributed to the nearly 3 million women who left the labor market during the first year of the pandemic. Comprehensive maternal health care benefits and support are the most efficient avenues for attracting women back into the workplace, removing the reasons for leaving in the first place, and retaining them.  

The report further highlights how access to mental health benefits is key to retaining a healthy, productive working environment. Providing mental health benefits can help businesses avoid some of the expenses of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which cost the U.S. as much as $14.2 billion a year.

From Here to Maternity demonstrates that companies struggle when women are unsupported at work. Companies cannot build inclusive workforces without implementing targeted policies supporting women through maternity journeys. Ultimately, companies need robust public healthcare policies that prioritize the maternal health and wellbeing of the workforce as a whole attractive.