American women are dying from pregnancy-related complications and more than half of the deaths were preventable, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report, issued this month, said approximately 700 women die from pregnancy and childbirth every year in the U.S. Of those, 31 percent die during pregnancy, 36 percent die during childbirth or in the first week postpartum, and 33 percent die in the first year after they give birth.
What’s more, black and American Indian or Alaska Native women are about three times as likely to die as white mothers.
Severe bleeding and embolisms were the top reasons an American woman dies during delivery. In the first week postpartum, severe bleeding, high blood pressure and infection were the most common causes of death.
For those women who died within the year mark, heart disease and a weekend heart muscle were to blame. If a woman has a known heart condition and gets pregnant, she needs special care from her provider.
But heart problems in the young can remain unknown until there is a serious problem.
“Common maternal conditions such as acquired heart disease and arrhythmias can surface during pregnancy and in the postpartum period,” said Laurie McKechnie, a nurse practitioner at Lynn Women’s Health in Lynn, Massachusetts. “There is already stress on the cardiovascular system during pregnancy with an increase in circulating blood volume and issues that arise or complaints presented by the patient need to become part of differential diagnosis in pregnancy.”
More education is needed to bring these problems to the forefront, she said.
“Most women have never even been hospitalized until they become pregnant so underlying conditions might not be recognized until pregnancy which places stress the heart,” McKechnie said.
The racial disparities with these deaths point to other systemic problems the United States has — including access to safe housing, good nutrition, education and healthcare.
In fact, one estimate said as many as 40 percent of postpartum women don’t get any kind of follow up care.
While the CDC periodically asks states for data on maternal mortality, only 29 out of 50 states have a devoted committee to consistently watch various metrics, leaving an unclear picture about what is needed to solve the problem.
Still, there’s a bright spot: California. While the nation’s maternal mortality rate has been steadily going up, California has seen its rate drop after officials started tracking these metrics in regards to maternal mortality.
As of now, the United States is the only developed country in the world where the maternal mortality rate is increasing. Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have doubled in the last 20 years.
“Pregnancy is generally a happy time but it doesn’t come without risks,” McKechnie said. “We need to take better care of our mothers to ensure that they are present to see the future for their kids.”
For more information on pregnancy and postpartum health, speak with your health care provider.