During pregnancy, labor, delivery, and beyond, there is a great deal of focus on the health and development of the baby. And while this is a rightfully significant focus, the question has been raised – “is maternal health forgotten during childbirth?” Statistics seem to suggest the answer to this question is “yes”.
Protecting the health of women and their babies during childbirth is an element of developed society that historically evolves as science and medicine innovate and change. Unfortunately, in the United States, maternal health seems to have fallen to the wayside. Read on to learn more about maternal health in the U.S., and how the U.S. healthcare system stacks up against other countries.
Maternal Healthcare in the U.S.
Estimates show that between 700 and 900 women die every year due to pregnancy or childbirth-related complications. As many as 65,000 suffer severe complications or “near-death” experiences. These numbers account for the highest among the developed world. So, how does the U.S. stack up against other countries? Consider the following:
- American women are over three times as likely to die in the maternal period (beginning of pregnancy up to one year post-delivery or termination) than Canadian women.
- American women are six times as likely to die during the maternal period than Scandinavian women.
- While mortality rates in the U.S. continue to rise, other countries like Great Britain have seen a decline so significant that now, male partners are more likely to die during the maternal period of their partner than the woman herself.
- In the U.S., almost 60 percent of maternal deaths are considered preventable.
- Maternal deaths are prevalent among every race, ethnicity, income, and education level.
Complications during the maternal period may occur at any time during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or in the weeks or months following delivery. Some of the most common complications leading to death include:
- Blood clots
- Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
It is critical that doctors educate patients, provide adequate care, and make decisions that are in the best interests of the mother and child. Failure to do so could be considered one more factor that leads to complications and death.
Anyone who believes that they have been harmed, or have lost a loved one, due to substandard care should contact the birth injury attorneys at Birth Injury Guide to explore their legal rights.
Is Maternal Health Forgotten During Childbirth?
In May 2017, National Public Radio (NPR) published an article detailing an investigation into maternal health and mortality rates in the U.S. NPR teamed up with ProPublica in a six-month investigation. The results were shocking, especially when compared to statistics in other developed or “wealthy” countries.
The NPR report identified the following key findings in the investigation:
- More American women die of pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. than in any other developed country.
- The U.S. is the only country whose rate of women dying due to pregnancy-related complications has been steadily increasing.
- There are no standardized methods of managing complications of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. There is, rather, a “hodgepodge” of protocols.
- Many American hospitals are unprepared for maternal emergencies.
- Only six percent of block grants (state and federal funding) for maternal and child health actually go toward the healthcare of the mother. 78 percent of this funding is allocated for infants and children with special needs.
- Some U.S. doctors enter the specialty of maternal-fetal medicine without ever spending time or training in a labor and delivery unit.
With such significant findings, researchers turn their attention on how to address increasing mortality rates and improve healthcare for women.
Why are U.S. Mortality Rates High?
The NPR report noted several factors that may contribute to higher mortality rates, such as:
- Women are getting pregnant later in life than ever before, which raises concerns about underlying or unidentified health conditions or risks.
- Around half of all U.S. pregnancies are “unplanned”, resulting in many women having unaddressed chronic conditions that could affect pregnancy.
- An increase in the number of Cesarean (c-section) births is attributed to a greater risk of complications following delivery.
- Complicated insurance laws and regulations makes it difficult for many women to obtain insurance, or enough coverage to get the healthcare they really need.
- Many women are simply not educated on how to recognize and address symptoms of complications during pregnancy, which complicates treatment when the condition becomes emergent.
- In maternity wards across the U.S., there is a much greater focus on fetal health than maternal health, with women routinely monitored while infants get specialized care.
Another important factor in higher mortality rates, according to Barbara Levy, Vice President for Health Policy/Advocacy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is the fact that “we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women”. Consider, for example, the fact that federal funding via the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network is largely aimed at fetal health. Of the 34 initiatives listed in its database, only four are specifically aimed at the health of mothers, while 24 are specifically aimed at infants. The remaining six include the health of both mother and child.
Learn More about Your Rights as a Patient
As a patient, you rely on the training and expertise of your healthcare provider to ensure that you get the proper diagnosis and treatment. Of course, complications may arise for various reasons, but it is up to your healthcare provider to recognize risks, take appropriate preventative measures, and respond promptly when complications arise. Further, your health should be closely monitored in the days, weeks, and even months post-delivery to ensure that your body and mind are both on the road to healing.
If you have questions about your legal rights as a patient, or are concerned that you are the victim of substandard or negligent care, explore your options by contacting Birth Injury Guide for a free case evaluation. Complete our online form to get started.