Complications that result in death either during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after delivery are some of the most tragic instances of fatality — commonly referred to as maternal mortality. What is fortunate is that these causes of death are generally preventable; what is unfortunate is that we are not doing a very good job of it.
It’s a collective “we” that refers to both our country and our state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the likelihood of dying from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes is higher in the United States than in all other developed nations. The state of Arkansas ranks as third-worst in the country, with a rate of 35 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to the national average of 20.
The CDC also estimates that 60,000 women who are new mothers experience serious or life-threatening complications every year — known as serious morbidity — a number that has almost doubled over the past 20 years. In addition, the risk of pregnancy-related deaths among black women is about three to four times higher than in white and Hispanic women.
According to the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC), the reasons behind these disheartening numbers in the U.S. and Arkansas revolve around the following factors: lack of access to health care, pre-existing chronic conditions such as pre-pregnancy obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; increases in maternal age; increases in drug addiction; the use of tobacco products and alcohol during pregnancy.
The AFMC also estimates that many of these causes are highly preventable, such as the failure to adequately control blood pressure in women with hypertension, failure to diagnose and treat pulmonary edema in women with preeclampsia and insufficient attention to vital signs or hemorrhage following a cesarean birth (C-section).
Organizations like the AFMC, the Arkansas Department of Health, and many others, are working diligently to reduce the rate of maternal mortality and serious morbidity in Arkansas. Through increased access to medical care, equipping hospitals with the right tools to treat elevated issues and educating new and expecting mothers on the causes for complications, it is heartening that we might be able to make that goal a reality.
New mothers should be hyper-aware and keep in mind the following warning signs, according to the AFMC:
• Bleeding that’s heavier than normal menstrual periods or worsens
• Discharge, pain or redness that does not go away or gets worse
• Feelings of sadness that last longer than 10 days after giving birth
• Fever higher than 100.4˚ F
• Pain or burning when going to the bathroom
• Pain, swelling and tenderness in legs, especially the calves
• Red streaks on breasts or painful lumps in a breast
• Headache that does not get better after taking medicine or headache with vision changes
• Severe pain in lower stomach, feeling nauseous or vomiting
• Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Critical Warning Signs:
• Bleeding that can’t be controlled
• Chest pain
• Trouble breathing
• Shortness of breath
• Signs of shock
• Mother has thoughts of hurting herself and/or the baby