It Sounds Like Something Of The Past

The other day during my shift as a labor and delivery nurse, I was shocked to see the following email come through my work inbox: "Every 10 minutes a woman in the U.S. almost dies of pregnancy-related complications and indeed 2 to 3 women die every day in the U.S. from these complications, making the U.S. the 46th country in the world for maternal mortality".

Woman giving birth in hospital | PregnancyAndBaby.com

The statistics are hard to comprehend. In a world where the focus of pregnancy and birth seems to be more on what kind of birth experience a woman wants (all-natural with candles lit or epidural all the way?) instead of wondering if she will survive her labor and delivery, it is simply hard to imagine that in the U.S. and worldwide, childbirth is still a risky business.

Just how risky is childbirth?

According to the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), 2 to 3 women die every day in the U.S. of complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Even more shocking, AWHONN states that almost half of those deaths are preventable.

Amnesty International's 2010 report, "USA: Deadly delivery: The maternal health care crisis in the USA" lists the five top causes of death for women during pregnancy and childbirth:

  1. Embolism. An embolism is a blood clot or bubble of air that gets trapped in a blood vessel and most always leads to death. Unfortunately, embolisms that aren't the result of immobility following a surgery are very hard to prevent.
  2. Hemorrhage. As we will discuss, postpartum hemorrhage is largely preventable and is a huge source of focus worldwide to improving maternal health and care.
  3. Preeclampsia and eclampsia. Disorders relating from dangerously high blood pressure.
  4. Infection
  5. Cardiomyopathy. A heart disorder.

But there's more

Unfortunately, AWHONN also cautions that there is much more to the picture than deaths alone, as almost every 10 minutes a complication arises that causes a woman to face death in childbirth. The most common complication? Postpartum hemorrhage, which affects almost 3 percent of all women after childbirth.

Not only are complications in, during, and following childbirth very serious, but for some reason they have also increased in recent years. AWHONN states, "The U.S. is one of the only countries where maternal deaths and injuries have increased." Shockingly, with the U.S. ranking 46th in the world for maternal morbidity, it falls just above countries like Iran and Hungary.

Who is at risk?

When you look at the data, there is racial disparity in the outcome of postpartum complications, especially related to hemorrhaging. One study showed that although black and white women are equally likely to have postpartum hemorrhaging, black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die as a result.

Because postpartum hemorrhages is so preventable, The California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative also lists specific care guidelines and screening processes for mothers at risk, such as women...

  • with anemia
  • who have prolonged labors
  • on Pitocin
  • with severe high blood pressure who have been treated with IV Magnesium Sulfate
  • who have given birth more than 4 times
  • who have had previous C-sections
  • who are obese
  • with placenta previa or a low-lying placenta

All the leading women's health organizations agree on one thing however — care for pregnant women across all income levels needs to improve. And the No. 1 way to keep you and your baby safe?

Regular prenatal care. Keep those appointments, ladies!

More on childbirth

Benefits of natural childbirth
Why is nobody talking about the risks of hospital birth?
Dangerous birth: Is childbirth becoming over-medicalized?

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