Pregnancy Deaths – A Uniquely American Problem and What Expecting Mothers Can Do to Protect Themselves

In America, thousands of mothers suffer significant injuries or die during childbirth. Each year more than 50,000 American women suffer severe injuries from childbirth. About 700 American women die each year from childbirth. A recent study from the USA Today demonstrates half of the deaths and injuries can be prevented by implementing safety practices mostly ignored by hospitals today.[1] 

In the study, fewer than half of women received prompt treatment for dangerous blood pressure readings that put them at risk for stroke. At some hospitals, less than 15 percent of mothers in peril received recommended treatment. Many of the hospitals failed to take safety steps such as quantifying women’s blood loss or tracking whether moms with dangerously high blood pressure received medication timely.

Today, the United States is the most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world.[2] From 1990 to 2015, maternal deaths in other developed nations flatted or declined significantly. Other countries reduced maternal deaths by monitoring care provided and implementing maternal safety practices.

Childbirth in America does not have to be so dangerous. Regulators and oversight groups could require hospitals to report data on childbirth complications and injuries. As opposed to the inaction in regulating births, regulators monitor elder care aggressively. For example, Medicare requires hospitals to disclose information on compilations for hip and knee surgeries. Unfortunately, there is little information available on maternal health.  No national tracking system exists for childbirth complications.

Despite the lack of information, expecting mothers can take a variety of steps to protect themselves. Mothers should know common warning signs and proper safety responses. For example, mothers are at risk of stroke once their blood pressure hits 160/110 (or either of those numbers individually). If blood pressure reaches 160/110 (or either individually): 1) the healthcare provider should retake the mother’s blood pressure within 15 minutes to ensure the reading is accurate; and 2) if still in the danger zone, the healthcare provider should give blood pressure medication to the mother within an hour.

Women should ask if their hospital tracks patient outcome data the maternal care. The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) contains many of the best maternal safety practices. Expecting mothers should familiarize themselves with the guidelines included in the AIM Program and ask whether their hospital is one of the 985 hospitals enrolled in the AIM Program.[3] 

It is regrettable the burden of receiving proper maternal care falls on patients.  But, as is so often the case in the American medical system, patients must take an active role in their treatment to ensure the best possible care.

[1] Young, Allison. Hospitals Know How To Protect Young Mothers. They Just Aren’t Doing It. USA Today (July 27, 2018), available at https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/deadly-deliveries/2018/07/26/maternal-mortality-rates-preeclampsia-postpartum-hemorrhage-safety/546889002/.

[2] Id.                                                                                                                

[3] Available at https://safehealthcareforeverywoman.org/aim-program/.

Bo Frith