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Maternal Death Rates Are Rising, Yet 80% of Childbirth Related Deaths Are Preventable

Maternal Death Rates Are Rising, Yet 80% of Childbirth Related Deaths Are Preventable

According to one CDC report, over 80 percent of the United States maternal deaths over two years were caused by preventable causes. Black and brown mothers made up around one-third of these deaths, with more than 90 percent of deaths of Indigenous mothers could have been prevented.

CDC researchers looked into pregnancy-related deaths from 2017 to 2019 based on the numbers from maternal mortality review committees. These multidisciplinary groups are located in thirty-six states, and they investigate circumstances surrounding maternal deaths.

Within this two-year period, of the 1,018 deaths, over 800 occurred up to one year after the delivery. 

  • Around 22 percent of the deaths took place during pregnancy
  • About 25 percent occurred on the day of the delivery or within a week
  • 53 percent happened over seven days after the delivery

Overdoses, death by suicide, and other mental conditions were among the top underlying causes of this high maternal mortality rate. Hemorrhages and external bleeding are next on the list. Looking at those numbers, that means about one-quarter of deaths were caused by mental health conditions. 14 percent were caused by hemorrhages, 13 percent were due to heart issues, and the rest of the deaths were linked to embolism, cardiomyopathy, infection, and high blood pressure.

The CDC’s review revealed that American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than two times as likely to die as white women. However, their deaths are frequently undercounted in health data because they’re misclassified. Over 90 percent of the deaths were completely preventable (from 2017-2019), most being due to mental health issues and hemorrhaging.

Black women are also three times more likely to die than white mothers. Many of them lose their life from heart problems. Hispanic and Latina mothers make up 14 percent of the deaths, which seem more likely to die from mental health situations.

Some of these deaths, such as those caused by bleeding, should be highly preventable. There are toolkits for clinicians that provide evidence-based guidelines for preventing and treating excessive bleeding.

Over half of deaths related to pregnancy happened up to a year after giving birth. A majority of postpartum visits get scheduled about six weeks after childbirth, with medical care for mothers ending within eight weeks postpartum or after delivery.

The postpartum period comes in three phases, with the third phase lasting up to six months for some women. Not to mention, postpartum depression can last for years. That said, we need more frequent check-ins.

In 2020, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) introduced something called the Redesigning Parental Care Initiative. The ACOG’s plan encourages the assessment of individual women’s social and medical needs at the beginning or as early in the start of pregnancy as possible. From here, a tailored plan of care is laid out for each individual throughout the entire pregnancy, including the postpartum period.

There’s no reason to stop there; many parents put their children’s needs above their own, meaning they’ll skip their check-ups, so their baby doesn’t have to. If more pediatricians offered services for women so they could get a check-up during their little one’s visit.

Education and empowerment are also vital for expecting women. Knowing the potential risks and learning how to use the tools to manage them should be more available. Little things like teaching women how to monitor their blood pressure can help them identify when things aren’t right.

Childbirth-related deaths have been on the rise, and the fact that so many of them were and are preventable. We could save so many lives if we’d take the steps toward rebuilding a system that’s clearly failing. 

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