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Maternal Mortality Rates Rising in United States—And Nowhere Else

June 16, 2017 Birth Injuries, Medical Malpractice

Fetal Monitoring Strip

If you were to ask ten people which developed nation has the highest maternal mortality rate, it’s unlikely that you’d hear the correct answer more than once.

But the United States has had the highest maternal mortality rate since 1994, and it’s the only one actually on the rise. In fact, research published in The Lancet shows that the rate has zoomed up to 26.4 deaths for 100,000 live births in 2015. The next-closest rate shows a wide margin: 9.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in the United Kingdom. Finland shows the lowest rate in the report: 3.8. The Centers for Disease Control shows detailed information for the United States.

A ProPublica article on the trend points to a shift in focus to newborn health as a factor in the decline of mothers’ survival rates. To be sure, the infant mortality rate is falling in response to several decades of focused medical attention. That success may have come at a price for mothers.

“We worry a lot about vulnerable little babies,” the article quotes Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy/advocacy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and “we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women.”

Stunningly, the attention paid to advancements in prenatal and infant care occurred almost to the exclusion of maternal care. Even within the past five years, maternal-fetal medicine training in many programs did not mandate training within a labor and delivery unit.

Where’s Indiana fall in all this? Well, we have a lot of room for improvement. The maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the nation, with 34.9 deaths for every 100,000 births. New Jersey had it worse, with a rate of 37.3, and in that state there’s a push to institute some of the procedures that helped get the U.K. rate to decline. There, a national committee is in place to examine each death arising from pregnancy or childbirth complications. Medical records and data are scrutinized, and coroner-enacted public inquiries shed light on what hospitals and their staffs could improve upon.

Great improvements have resulted, but here in the United States, such efforts are not spearheaded by the federal government and are left to the states. So far, according to the ProPublica article, only 26 states have instituted such a process to address maternal health and mortality. Some progress may come in legislation: the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act would authorize funds for state-established review panels. California is among the first to emulate the U.K. system.

It’s hard to imagine, with the stunning discrepancy between the United States and other developed nations, the movement to improve outcomes here won’t grow exponentially in the coming years. For now, the CDC offers guidance and, as always, doing your own research and asking a lot of questions of your physicians can help your own outcomes.

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