March 6, 2017
The number of women who die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth has more than doubled over the last twenty years, according to The New York Times.
The United States is one of the only industrialized nations with such a high maternal death rate. Forty other countries have a lower maternal death rate than the United States, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Countries like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have had increased rates of maternal mortality since 2000, but their ratios are still lower than the United States. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria have actually decreased their rates of maternal mortality since 2000.
Causes of Maternal Mortality in the United States
The four leading causes of maternal death in the United States include:
- Post-partum hemorrhage (bleeding in childbirth)
- Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy and childbirth)
- Eclampsia (seizures in a woman with pre-eclampsia)
- Women entering pregnancy in already unhealthy conditions (e.g. 1 in 5 women enter pregnancy as obese women)
High mortality rates often appear in regions where people lack basic access to healthcare. The South has the highest rates of maternal mortality because many remote communities do not have direct access to physicians or hospitals.
Problems with Reporting Maternal Mortality Rates
In 2003, death certificates added a question asking about a deceased woman’s recent pregnancy history. This helped with reporting efforts for maternal mortality, but many states took years to adopt the form.
The government stopped reporting their official estimates in 2007 because of this delay. Even in 2014, nine states hadn’t adopted the new death certificates.
The older data showed that mortality rates could vary greatly between states. Based on data from 2000-2006, Indiana was the third safest state in which to give birth, but right across the northern border, Michigan was the least safe state in the United States.
Maternal Mortality Rates Today: California Decreases, Texas Increases
New data published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that the United States maternal mortality rate increased across the nation from 18.8 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014—in every state except for California and Texas.
In California, maternal death rates fell from 21.5 in 2003 to 15.1 in 2014, making it the only state in the U.S. in which maternal mortality rates have declined, according to The New York Times.
Texas tells a different story. Maternal mortality doubled in Texas from 17.7 in 2000 to 35.8 in 2014. Texas’s maternal death rate is on par with that of the entire country of Mexico, making it the least safe state in the country in which to give birth.
To compare to other countries: Britain’s maternal mortality rate was 6.7 per 100,000 in 2014, and Germany’s was 4.1.
Birth Injury Cases Include Mothers, Too
Of course, the maternal mortality rate does not take into account the women who suffer injuries from childbirth due to the negligence of their doctors. People often think of birth injury cases as cases in which an infant has been injured in childbirth, but mothers can be injured as well.
Examples of birth injuries to the mother include:
- Broken bones
- Uterine bleeding or rupture
- Peripartum emergencies
U.S. Law Protects Pregnant Women from Medical Negligence
In the United States, the quality of healthcare a woman receives can vary state by state.
Healthcare professionals may not listen to a pregnant woman’s concerns until her symptoms develop into a traumatic health crisis.
Procedures may be performed that would not have been necessary had the pregnant woman received the standard level of healthcare from her physician.
Although the U.S. maternal mortality rate is on the rise, the law still protects pregnant women from injury or death due to medical negligence of doctors, healthcare professionals, and healthcare facilities.