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Maternity Care Desert

Maternity care deserts are counties across the U.S. in which access to maternity care services is limited or absent, either through lack of services or barriers to a woman's ability to access that care within counties. Specifically, a maternity care desert is any county without a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care and without any obstetric providers. Obstetric providers include obstetricians, family physicians who reported delivering babies, certified nurse midwives and nurse midwives. The three other classifications of maternity care levels include low access, moderate access and full access. Low access to care is defined as counties with one or fewer hospitals or birth centers that provide obstetric care, few obstetric providers (fewer than 60 per 10,000 births) or a high proportion of women without health insurance (greater than or equal to 10 percent of reproductive aged women). Moderate access to care is defined as living in a county with access to one or fewer hospitals/birth centers and few obstetric providers or adequate health insurance coverage (less than 10 percent of women of reproductive age uninsured). Full access to maternity care can be defined by the availability of two or more hospitals or birth centers providing obstetric care in a given county or availability of at least 60 providers offering obstetric care.

  • More than 2 million women of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts (1,052 counties) that have no hospital offering obstetric care, no birth center and no obstetric provider.
  • Almost 130,000 babies were born in maternity care deserts.
  • An additional 3.5 million women of childbearing age live in counties with limited access to maternity care.

Access to quality maternity care is a critical component of maternal health and positive birth outcomes, especially in light of the high rates of maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity in the U.S. Find the most recent full report here:

Find the most recent state-level reports here:

Explore the data on this page to better understand maternity care access in your state.

Last updated: December 2023