You might be shocked to learn New Jersey has one of highest maternal mortality rates in the nation.

According to New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy, an average of 47 women die for every 100,000 live births in the Garden State, compared to 20 nationally.

Murphy is leading the charge to change things as a member of the state Maternal Mortality Review Committee, an expert panel performing comprehensive reviews of all maternal deaths in the Garden State.

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According to the CDC, the United States ranks 55th in the world, behind Russia and edging out Ukraine, in maternal mortality rates. New Jersey, meanwhile, ranks 47th among the states.

The data has been compiled by America’s Health Rankings.

“A Black baby in New Jersey is three times more likely than a white baby to die before his or her first birthday, and recent data shows that Black women are seven times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy related deaths," Murphy said.

She explained maternal mortality refers to more than just giving birth.

“It could be leading up to birth, it could be during delivery or it could be postpartum,” she said.

Murphy said the health disparities in New Jersey are the direct result of systemic racism.

“It’s lack of quality affordable childcare, it’s inadequate housing, lack of providers who accept Medicaid, food deserts, lack of transportation,” she said.

She stressed improving maternal health outcomes is not just an issue of prenatal care.

“For some mothers, it’s literally a question of whether they’re able to access that care," she said. "It’s whether a mother can find a provider that takes Medicaid, or find a bus that will take her to that very doctor.”

She pointed out “this is not something obviously you can change overnight.” But gathering details of maternal deaths “and identifying the opportunity for improving outcomes are really only the first steps necessary to translate lessons learned into specific programs and initiatives."

Murphy said the committee is currently working on developing a plan with “specific steps that we can take as a state to reduce our maternal mortality rate by 50% over five years, and ensure equity in birth outcomes.”

The committee’s work will be supported by a $450,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Nurture New Jersey campaign, meanwhile, is raising awareness about infant and maternal mortality and providing information and assistance.

Earlier this year, the first lady announced a partnership between the Murphy Administration, the Nicholson Foundation and the Community Health Acceleration Partnership to develop a strategic plan that aims to reduce Jersey’s maternal mortality rate by 50 percent and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes.

A Report Card of Hospital Maternity released by the state Health Department shows some aspects of maternity care in New Jersey have improved since 2016, such as cesarean delivery rates, which fell from 35.7% to 34.4%. The Report Card notes while sometimes medically necessary, a C-section is associated with elevated risks for hemorrhage, infection, complications from anesthesia, future pregnancy complications and infant respiratory problems.

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