4 new laws take aim at improving maternity care in New Jersey

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Gov. Phil Murphy has signed four bills into law aimed at improving maternal health care, particularly for residents using Medicaid in New Jersey.

The new laws were enacted just a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing pregnancy-related deaths are rising and that being black is one of the main risk factors.

State officials say that black mothers die of pregnancy-related causes at four times the rate of white women.

“Black babies are three times more likely than white babies to never see their first birthday. This is the widest racial disparity in the entire nation and it is wholly unacceptable,” says New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy.

One measure provides for Medicaid to cover doulas, or birthing companions. Another sets up a pilot program for perinatal care for those on Medicaid.

RELATED: NJ first lady starts effort to lower maternal mortality rate 

The third bill bars early, elective deliveries that are not medically necessary for those on Medicaid and on the state's health benefits plans.

The final measure codifies a current practice by requiring perinatal risk assessment forms be filled out by Medicaid providers.

“Some infants will die from a crib death. Alternately, infants may die from complications that were not recognized,” says Dr. Lisa Gittens-Williams with Rutgers Medical School. “A baby might go home and have a fever and the parents don’t understand they should bring the baby to the hospital. But that fever may be an unrecognized infection.”

Mothers are at risk after giving birth and during pregnancy from conditions like the high blood pressure complication known as preeclampsia.

“In my first pregnancy, I was told my only option was to terminate my pregnancy. I didn't know that I had any other options. I always wanted to listen to the physician, so I did as I was told. When I went into my second pregnancy I lost that baby to a stillborn again through preeclampsia,” says Jaye Wilson who started the community-based group Melinated Moms – a support group for women of color.

Wilson says that she wants expectant and new moms to get the right information.

“How many other women are really getting the same story? How many other health care providers, nurses, other advocates are telling them their only option is you have no option?” Wilson asks.

Earlier this year, first lady Murphy launched a statewide awareness campaign called Nurture New Jersey, aimed at increasing awareness of infant and maternal mortality rates in the state.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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