Public Health Research

Marit Bovbjerg advances maternity care in the U.S.

College of Health researcher works toward equitable and evidence-based practices

By Hanna Knowles

Assistant Professor Marit Bovbjerg focuses on U.S. maternity care, particularly midwifery and community birth for low-risk women. Marit is also interested in physical activity during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and potential effects on maternal outcomes.

What inspired you to study U.S. maternity care?

Maternity care in the United States is in crisis.

Our maternal mortality rate for white women is two to three times as high as other high-income countries, and for Black and Indigenous pregnant people, it’s six to seven times as high. Our rates of intervention, like cesarean, even in low-risk pregnancies are more than double what they ideally should be. We are the only rich country that offers no paid maternity leave.

We are failing our moms on so many levels.

I got into this work because pregnancy and birth are something that affects nearly half of our population — 3.8 million births occur each year in the U.S. — and the care they receive is inefficient, not evidence-based and often downright inhumane. We could do so much better.

How has your work impacted the health and well-being of women?

I like to think my work moves the needle, just a bit, on making sure more people have access to high-quality maternity care and good outcomes.

I work with a great team. Together, we have published data that has been used to increase access to community birth in Oregon and increase access to waterbirth globally.

As an epidemiologist, I am also interested in the methods behind the data, and my team’s work has been used to improve neonatal assessment, breastfeeding duration assessment and analysis methods for physical activity data.