Despite flaunting advanced science and investments into quality of life, the United States is still woefully behind much of the developed world when it comes to keeping mothers alive during childbirth.
As ProPublica notes, while other advanced nations continue to see their maternal mortality rates drop, the U.S. has seen a sharp upswing in deaths and near-deaths between 2000 and 2014.
“American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians. In every other wealthy country, and many less affluent ones, maternal mortality rates have been falling.”
In Great Britain, the rate is now so low that a woman’s male partner is more likely do die during her pregnancy than she is. Meanwhile, 60 percent of American women who die in pregnancy and birth-related deaths die from preventable causes.
The most obvious culprit is to blame for some of the death: many of the women who die are low-income and minority. But even the most affluent women are dying as well.
They died from cardiomyopathy and other heart problems, massive hemorrhage, blood clots, infections and pregnancy-induced hypertension (preeclampsia) as well as rarer causes. Many died days or weeks after leaving the hospital.
One culprit is a general trend of older mothers in the U.S.. As women are choosing when to have children, and many putting their education and career before establishing a family, the number of “geriatric” women attempting to give birth is rising, raising risks as well.
Unfortunately, the biggest preventable culprit of these preventable deaths is the way that we view and treat mothers during the birth process. While healthcare providers perform a wealth of tests on newborn babies, mothers are often left to their own devices. As a result, internal injuries and long-lasting side effects of a traumatic birth are often overlooked.
“In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.
The growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine drifted so far toward care of the fetus that as recently as 2012, young doctors who wanted to work in the field didn’t have to spend time learning to care for birthing mothers.”
Simply, mothers need to be receiving just as much care and attention as the children they are bringing into this world. A skewed trend toward fetal and newborn health means healthier babies, but we should be guaranteeing that those babies are given mothers who survive their births. If we cannot make that simple guarantee, what good are our other technological and medical advancements?
Read more detailed information about the research that has gone into the maternal mortality rate from ProPublica.