Tech Startups Confront the Maternal Health Crisis


Maternal mortality in the US spiked to a near-historic high in 2021, highlighting a disturbing trend.

  • 1,205 women died during pregnancy (or shortly after) in 2021, up from 754 in 2019.
  • In 2019, maternal morbidity cost the US an estimated $32.3B.
  • Black, American Indian, and Alaskan Native women are 2x more likely to die than White women, and Medicaid recipients are at higher risk than privately insured, per the CDC.

Making matters worse, over 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are considered preventable, with cardiac complications, hemorrhage, and mental health conditions as leading underlying causes.

Between the lines: Childbirth is 3x more dangerous in the US than other high-income countries.

Complicated by underinsured low-income families, lack of culturally competent training, and disappearing obstetric wards from rural county budgets — more women than ever are missing out on critical aspects of maternal care, especially prenatal and postpartum.

Adding to that, increased risk of complications from chronic health issues, stemming from rising obesity rates and more women choosing to delay having children, has propelled the problem into a full-blown crisis.

Underscoring it all is an outdated and under-equipped healthcare system that has yet to grasp women’s physical and emotional needs before, during, and after birth.

Moms Need More

Throughout pregnancy, so much attention is given to the baby that many mothers don’t know the first step in helping themselves. However, this is changing, albeit slowly.

At the federal level, the White House Maternal Health Blueprint includes efforts to extend Medicaid’s postpartum coverage and provide rural hospitals with additional resources.

But, digital health startups are developing their own solutions to bridge the gap between hospital and home care.

  • 2022: Mahmee, Millie, Noula, and Cayaba Care all secured funding to scale their wraparound pregnancy-support services, with emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
  • Jan 2023: New York-based maternity center Oula raised $19M for its hybrid clinic that combines midwifery and obstetrics.
  • June 2023: Pomelo Care added $25M in a round led by a16z, partnering with major medical providers on value-based virtual care.

An early mover in female-focused telemedicine, Maven Clinic offers virtual access to services including doulas, midwives, physical therapists, and mental health care. Another approach, biotech company Mirvie is working to commercialize its breakthrough RNA preeclampsia detection test.

And, not to be overlooked, exercise during pregnancy has reduced the risk of complications like gestational diabetes, premature birth, C-section, and postpartum depression. Taking note, Expect Fitness offers an OBGYN-approved platform, and Pvolve partnered with Ovia Health on postpartum content.

Takeaway: Maternal care needs a new model, capable of meeting women of all backgrounds with quality, whole-person care — when and where they need it. Advancing technology and mission-driven startups are pushing the needle forward, but only once they’re integrated into the larger health system will we start to make inroads.

Special thanks to Jess Schram, digital health investor and startup consultant, for contributing research and insights to this piece.

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