The odds of severe labor and delivery complications are greater for mothers who are burdened by high rental housing costs, according to an analysis of more than 1 million New Jersey births over a decade.

A study out of Rutgers, which was published on Nov. 22 in JAMA Network Open, found the threat was even higher for women in these areas who achieved lower levels of education.

Women living in high-cost rental areas are more likely to suffer life-threatening outcomes, such as hemorrhage or heart failure, during labor and delivery, according to the research. More than a dozen life-threatening outcomes were analyzed.

"This association was strongest among mothers with less than a high school education, which for us is an indicator of lower socioeconomic status," said Felix Muchomba, lead author and an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Social Work.

For those with a college education, 160 women out of 10,000 faced health risks during labor and delivery, compared to 260 women without a high school degree.

Muchomba noted that the financial pressure to make rent can have a psychological toll on women. Those burdened by housing costs, he added, may have fewer resources to spend on health care.

The research noted that the connection appeared to weaken with more local support of affordable housing programs. According to the researchers, the findings suggest that greater availability of publicly supported affordable housing has the potential to mitigate the association between rental housing costs and severe maternal morbidity.

Severe maternal morbidity can affect the short-term and long-term health of women, the researchers said. It can also impact the bonding between mom and baby.

"This research on maternal health outcomes is particularly important for New Jersey because we have one of the highest rates of maternal mortality and maternal morbidity in the nation," Muchomba said.

New Jersey ranks 47th in the nation for maternal deaths. A report issued in November by the state Department of Health found that most pregnancy-related deaths between 2016 and 2018 could have been prevented.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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