Maternal mortality and its disproportionate impact on Black women have been getting some long overdue attention recently. In April, Vice President Kamala Harris and Domestic Policy Director Susan Rice led a round table discussion of the issue on the White House campus. Exact numbers vary because different organizations count pregnancy-related deaths differently. But, all suggest that Black women are two to three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as women of other races.
Though it may be hard to imagine, the problem is deeper and more disturbing than the headlines suggest. The United States is the most dangerous place in the developed world to have a baby, and Georgia is among the most dangerous in the United States. In fact, CDC data from one recent five-year period shows that Georgia’s pregnant women and new mothers are more than twice as likely to die than the national average.
Maternal Mortality Rates Around the World
In 1990, maternal mortality rates in the United States and France were nearly identical, with about 17 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Germany was slightly higher, at about 20 per 100,000, while Japan, England and Canada were all significantly lower.
Across the next 25 years, medical science advanced significantly. As knowledge, monitoring tools, and treatments advanced, the maternal death rate in France dropped to about eight per 100,000. Germany’s maternal death rate plummeted, from 20 per 100,000 in 1990 to nine per 100,000 in 2015. Japan and Canada’s rates were even lower.
Meanwhile, women in the United States were dying at a rate of 26.4 per 100,000 births. In other words, during the same time period Germany cut its maternal death rate by more than 50%, the U.S. saw a 55% increase.
Serious Injuries During and After Pregnancy and Childbirth
Most news coverage focuses on the hundreds of women in the United States who die each year–many of them unnecessarily–during pregnancy, childbirth, and the aftermath. But, about 50,000 additional women suffer serious injuries due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications each year. These include strokes, organ damage, and other serious effects. Some of these injuries have lifelong consequences.
Common Causes of Pregnancy and Birth-Related Injury and Death
One of the most disturbing aspects of the maternal health crisis is that most experts agree that many of the injuries and deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth are avoidable. In some circumstances, very simple safety protocols could significantly reduce the risk to pregnant women and new mothers. But, those precautions are frequently neglected.
Blood Loss During and After Childbirth
For example, one common cause of birth-related injury and death is excessive bleeding. Hemorrhaging may be similar to the bleeding that typically follows a vaginal delivery, but much heavier. Or, the bleeding may be internal.
Excessive blood loss can cause a number of serious complications, including stopping the heart, limiting oxygen to the brain, and causing serious organ damage. The first type of excessive bleeding can be detected by monitoring the amount of blood. One simple way to do this is to weigh pads as they are replaced to measure how much blood has been lost. But, many hospital representatives who spoke with researchers for the USA Today report referenced above admitted that they simply didn’t conduct this type of monitoring.
Similarly, there are telltale signs of internal bleeding, including seriously low blood pressure. But, too often, those warning signs are ignored until it’s too late.
High Blood Pressure
Blood volume significantly increases during pregnancy, which means greater stress on blood vessels. High blood pressure during pregnancy and after childbirth indicates an increased risk of stroke, seizures, and death. During pregnancy, high blood pressure means an increased risk of premature birth.
In addition to higher blood pressure readings, many patients at risk experience headaches, seeing spots or lights, stomach pain, swelling in the hands or face, or shortness of breath. Still, across numerous hospitals whose records were reviewed for the USA Today story, fewer than half of maternity patients were promptly treated for dangerously high blood pressure.
Advocate for Yourself and Your Loved Ones
The two complications described above are among the most common causes of maternal death and serious injury during pregnancy and during or after the birth of a child. But, they are far from the only risks. Some other common serious complications include post-birth infections, blood clots and cardiac complications such as weakened heart muscles.
We all want to be able to rely on medical professionals and other experts who provide important services. But, too often, that trust is misplaced. Unfortunately, women’s medical concerns are more likely to be brushed aside than men’s. And, a survey conducted by the non-profit National Partnership for Women and Families revealed that Black women were more likely than white women to say their concerns regarding birth had been ignored.
Whether you are a pregnant woman or new mother or the family member of a woman in that position, it’s important to assert yourself if you feel that serious concerns are being dismissed or treated too lightly. In a situation involving blood loss, high blood pressure, or other serious complications, time can make all the difference.
If you or a loved one has been harmed by pregnancy-related complications that could have been avoided, consult with an Atlanta medical malpractice attorney to learn more about your rights and options.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence, including victims of medical malpractice. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.