July 17, 2019
Women today are 50 percent more likely to die during childbirth than their mothers. Not in some far-off, third world country. Here, in the United States of America.
Though maternal mortality rates have steadily dropped in other developed nations, it has been on the rise in the U.S. Since my mother had her babies, three decades ago, the number of American women dying from pregnancy-related complications has more than doubled. During the same time period, maternal mortality rates around the world dropped by more than 40 percent.
Why are mothers in America dying during childbirth?
For starters, chronic health problems like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are on the rise, which can lead to serious pregnancy-related complications. There are many other medical conditions and health factors that can increase an expecting mother’s risk for late-pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and being pregnant with multiples.
Another contributor to maternal mortality is that white women in America receive better maternal medical treatment . African American and Native American mothers are about three times more likely to die during childbirth or because of pregnancy-related complications than non-Hispanic white mothers. The top five causes of maternal deaths in our country are hemorrhage, cardiovascular and coronary conditions, cardiomyopathy, infection and embolism. These are largely preventable complications that disproportionately affect women of color because of factors including poverty and lack of access to quality health care.
Pregnant women also need more information and education about warning signs that could be a harbinger late-term complications and death. These include: vaginal bleeding; sudden or severe swelling of face, hands or fingers; a severe headache that does not go away; pain or cramping in the lower abdomen; pain or burning during urination; chills or a fever; vomiting or nausea that does not go away; dizziness or blurred vision; and/or a sudden decrease in the baby’s movement. If you are pregnant and experience any of these symptoms or anything else that seems unusual, call your doctor right away (even if it is in the middle of the night!).
There are proactive steps every expecting mother should take to optimize her health and the wellbeing of her baby and prevent pregnancy complications. All pregnant women should receive regular prenatal check-ups. During the last trimester, that means every two weeks until a month before the estimated due date and weekly during 36-40 weeks.
Medical care for mothers cannot stop once the baby is born. More than half of pregnancy-related deaths occur after childbirth. As many as 40 percent of postpartum mothers do not go to their 4-6 week check-up, mainly due to limited resources. Postpartum fatigue and discomfort can seem normal after giving birth, but it is crucial to regularly follow-up with your obstetrician to determine if you are experiencing any complications. Mothers should call their doctors right away for excessive bleeding or large blood clots; an incision that is not healing properly; a red or swollen leg that is painful or warm; a fever higher than 100.4 F; or a bad headache that either does not get better with medication or is accompanied by vision changes. Mothers should seek emergency help after childbirth if experiencing chest pain; obstructed breathing or shortness of breath; seizures; or thoughts of hurting oneself or the baby.
While the numbers of maternal mortality in America have been trending in the wrong direction for the past few decades, the overall numbers of maternal mortality are very low. Only 18 out of every 100,000 births in America result in a mother’s death. But that is 18 deaths too many, especially considering most of these deaths are preventable.
Throughout my first pregnancy with my son three years ago, two subsequent miscarriages and now in the 30th week of expecting my daughter, I have received exemplary medical care from a team of obstetricians, gynecologists, nurse practitioners and nurses. At times, I have taken my healthcare for granted. Getting put on hold for 10 minutes when trying to make an appointment for an ultrasound has seemed like an inconvenience. I luckier than most women for the great care I receive not only because I frequent a highly rated medical practice but because my family is able to afford good health insurance. Expecting mothers with Medicaid or those who do have any health insurance can be less likely to receive medical care for life-threatening complications because they may not know how to obtain low-cost or free healthcare services. There are millions of pregnant women around the world who wish for the healthcare I receive. I am no more deserving than they are. Every expecting mother needs maternal healthcare for the good of themselves, their babies, their families and communities.
More than 800 women around the world die each day from preventable pregnancy-related causes. Most maternal deaths would be avoided by access to prenatal care in pregnancy, skilled care during childbirth, and care and support in the weeks after delivery. #BumpDay was designed to raise awareness about the need for better maternal health care in the United States and worldwide. Its partners are International Medical Corps, Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and the What to Expect Foundation.
How can you get involved? The easiest way to help spread awareness about the need for better maternal healthcare is by posting a photo of your baby bump on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with the tag #BumpDay. Elevating this conversation and shining a light on this important issue can help direct more resources to combat it. If you have the means, consider donating to International Medical Corps or What to Expect Foundation in dedication of Bump Day.
Please join me in celebrating #BumpDay. Let’s raise awareness and work toward the goal of providing quality health care to all expecting women worldwide.
On July 17th, I encourage mothers to post a photo of their beautiful baby bumps (past or present) on social media and tag #BumpDay to help bring awareness for the need for better maternal healthcare in America and around the world. Share your #BumpDay posts with me on Twitter by tagging @thePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.