What You Need to Know About Maternal Mortality

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We have the most technologically advanced healthcare in the world, but you may be shocked to learn that when it comes to maternal mortality, our statistics look more like those of a less developed nation than a world leader. In fact, our rate of death for recent or expectant mothers is the absolute worst among developed nations, in North America and Europe. To make matters worse, rates have risen over the past 25 years, while they have fallen in many other places.  

On today’s show, we discussed the reality of this public health problem with Judge Hatchet, whose daughter-in-law died only 12 hours after giving birth to a son. Hopefully, this tragic loss will spur changes that can help all women.

So why is pregnancy-related mortality so high in the United States?

Some suggest we’ve been focusing on the baby and forgetting to focus on the mother. We’ve taught mothers what to look out for in their babies, but haven’t given them enough information about their own health. Others point to an increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Expecting mothers with these conditions have an increased risk of delivery complications.

While any mother can be affected, large social and racial disparities also exist. The rate of pregnancy-related mortality is four times higher in African American women than in white women. Rates are also higher for women with lower income.   

Fortunately, there is something we can do; according to the CDC Foundation, it’s estimated that 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. The state of California has proven that changes in our healthcare system can make a big difference. There, a physician’s group has designed procedures for healthcare workers to help them quickly recognize and treat the most common causes of death: pre-eclampsia and hemorrhage. While there is still much to be done, this work is starting to pay off, as the death rate in California is one-third the national average.

We don’t have to rely on healthcare providers to solve this problem, though. There is something everyone can do right now to help. First, if you’re thinking about having a baby, it’s important to be healthy. Pregnancy is tough on the body, so preparing ahead of time by adopting a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference. Also, it’s important to go to the doctor to address any medical problems you may have.

You know your body better than anyone, so when you’re pregnant it’s important to look out for significant signs and symptoms that could indicate a problem. These include signs of blood loss, like increased vaginal bleeding, dizziness, a racing heart, and lightheadedness; and signs of preeclampsia, like persistent headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, or vision changes.

After giving birth, while everyone is focused on the baby, be sure to focus on mom as well. Our friends at Healthy Mom & Baby powered by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses have created this amazing one-sheet about post-birth warning signs and what to do which every expecting family should read.