For some time the perception has been that the United States has one of the best (albeit one of the more expensive and less accessible) healthcare systems in the world. However, this does not appear to be completely accurate, at least regarding expectant mothers and their medical care.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that the maternal mortality rate —the rate at which women die during pregnancy or childbirth — is higher now than it was 20 to 30 years ago. What is more, the United States’ maternal mortality rate is almost twice that of Canada and is higher than many other industrialized nations. What is behind this increase in the deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth, and what can be done about it?
The United States’ Maternal Mortality Rate: Then and Now
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that in 1987, the United States had a maternal mortality rate of 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. For every 100,000 live births in 1987, about seven women in the United States died from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. In 2011 (almost 25 years later), the rate jumped to almost 18 deaths per 100,000 live births. A Lancet study conducted in 2013 found that the United States’ maternal mortality rate had increased once again – to 18.5 deaths per 100,000 live births
According to Reuters, this gives the United States a maternal mortality rate almost twice as high as Canada. In addition, the United States, along with Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Venezuela, was only one of a few countries that had a worse maternal mortality rate in 2015 than it did in 1990.
Scientific American proposed one possible explanation for the significant increase in the number of reported deaths of pregnant women. In 2003 an updated death certificate form was released that specifically asked the person completing the form whether the decedent had been pregnant within the past year, was pregnant at the time of death, or had been pregnant within 42 days of death. This specific question had been absent from the previous death certificate form used until 2003. Therefore it is believed that some of the “increase” in the U.S.’s maternal mortality rate is due simply to more accurate reporting and not necessarily an actual increase in the rate at which mothers are dying during pregnancy or childbirth.
Why Do Women Die During Childbirth?
Better record keeping may be one factor. But the explanation for the increase in maternal mortality may involve multiple factors, according to a CNN report, including the increase in cesarean section births, obesity related complications such as high blood pressure, a lack of access to health care and more women giving birth at older ages.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 300,000 women died due to pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications and conditions in 2015. Some of the most common causes of the deaths include hemorrhaging, infections, and/or extremely high blood pressure during delivery. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately one million children around the world are left motherless each year as a result of the death of the mother during childbirth. Newborn children whose mothers die are likely to die themselves between one and two years after their mothers die.
One common factor that the World Health Organization noticed in many of the cases of death to the mother is the lack of access to affordable and quality medical care before, during, and after delivery. WHO believes that many incidents of maternal death during childbirth are preventable if the mother is has access to healthcare and family planning services in her geographic area.
Reducing Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States
Scientific American‘s Dina Fine Maron points to several potential causes for the increase in maternal mortality rates in the United States and what can be done about them:
- Improve prenatal health: Some studies have indicated that an increase number of pregnant women have preexisting medical conditions that increase the risk of complications. When an expectant mother has a preexisting condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or chronic heart disease, the chances of a complication arising during or after delivery increases. By encouraging expectant mothers to address and manage any health conditions they may have before and during pregnancy, the risk of complications can be reduced.
- Improve postnatal care: Women who have given birth are at risk of a post partum hemorrhage for a period of time after they have delivered. Yet new mothers do not always receive or have access to adequate postnatal care. Encouraging new mothers to receive postnatal care and improving the availability of such care can have an impact on the number of incidents of wrongful death to the mother.
- Improve accessibility of healthcare to minorities: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American women are more than three times as likely to die of pregnancy-related complications and childbirth as white women. African American women are more likely to start prenatal care in the second or third trimester of pregnancy or not have prenatal care.
Contact a Philadelphia Birth Injury Attorney for Assistance
Even access to the best hospitals and medical providers is no absolute protection from birth injuries and incidents of wrongful death to the mother. Medical neglect or a careless mistake by an obstetrician/gynecologist, nurse, or other medical professional during a delivery or when providing pre- or postnatal care can cause serious or even fatal injuries to the child and mother.
The medical malpractice attorneys at the Colleran Firm assist families in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey recover financial compensation when medical errors contribute to a birth-related injury or wrongful death. We understand the importance of family: four of our firm’s attorneys are family members. Contact our firm today by phone or e-mail if you or a loved one has suffered a birth-related injury.