BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Spotlight on Maternal Health

Posted by egehl on March 17, 2010

It’s rare, but steadily increasing at a disturbing rate.   As women, we take for granted that getting pregnant is not a health risk.  If you get pregnant in this country there is a less than .0002% chance of dying due to a pregnancy-related death.  Nevertheless even though the risk is very small, the maternal mortality rate is four times higher than the goal the federal government set for this year and the numbers are rising.

What’s to blame for this rise in deaths?  Three reasons have been surmised including the stark rise in obesity rates, increased frequency of C-sections and more women without health insurance. 

Cesarean deliveries now account for almost a third of births, and women who get this procedure have a higher risk of hemorrhage, infection, DVT-caused pulmonary emboli and uncontrolled blood pressure.  One in five pregnant women is obese which has spurred increased rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, and resulted in more C-sections.  Finally, more women are without health insurance and lack adequate coverage to afford appropriate prenatal care to avoid potentially harmful symptoms. 

Because it’s rare, maternal mortality gets little public attention in the United States aside from last year’s worry over the swine flu.  However doctors are taking notice nationwide, especially in California where pregnancy-related deaths have nearly tripled over the past decade.  

Other factors in monitoring maternal health are age, race and income.  Age can pose a risk depending on whether the woman is on the younger or older end of the spectrum.  More women are having children in their late 30’s and beyond when complication risks are greater.  However on the flip side, teen pregnancy rates have increased in recent years and younger women are more prone to overlook taking necessary prenatal precautions. 

Black women are at least three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women because they are more susceptible to high blood pressure and are more likely to get inadequate prenatal care.  And if a woman of any race lives in poverty her chances of experiencing pregnancy and delivery complications will multiply. 

Deaths resulting from childbirth can be directly related up to 42 days after child birth, not just what happens in the delivery room. In 2006, there were 13.3 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births. A decade ago, the rate hovered around 7 – and by this year, the U.S. government had hoped to lower it to 3.3 deaths.

It’s devastating to think of the children who will never have the opportunity to know their moms. Therefore women should be mindful of the precautionary steps they can take to monitor their health and prevent unforeseen risks. 

Women should always seek early prenatal care to control underlying disorders and check for DVT risk.  Pregnancy will make every woman’s blood clot more easily. Women who’ve already had a clot, have family members with clots, suffer from obesity or who have varicose veins are most at risk. 

C-sections can be lifesaving but women should understand how to reduce their chances of needing one.  And if a woman gets one C-section she will have to do it again if she has more children.  This must be kept in mind because repeat C-sections increase hemorrhage risk. 

While women can be secure that their chances of having a healthy pregnancy and delivery are high, we must not take it for granted.  Changes in our society and public health are changing our country’s maternal health and we should remain vigilant so that our mothers and babies have the best chance for a healthy life.


One Response to “Spotlight on Maternal Health”

  1. Joyinhome said

    Love this post and the pic. One note: if you have a cesarean you don’t have to have another one (the probablity that you will have another increases however). Some doctors urge women to but you don’t have to and women need to understand this.

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