Rates of Maternal Death in Childbirth Are Rising in the U.S., But Not in Other Developed Countries

Maternal mortality has been a significant risk for centuries. Today, however, advancements in medicine and medical technology have allowed health care providers across the world to more effectively treat mothers and keep them safe and healthy during pregnancy, childbirth, and the critical periods following delivery. While risks and complications still exist, the progress made in terms of keeping mothers alive has been quite tremendous. Unfortunately, as new investigative reports and studies are showing, the U.S. is struggling to maintain and advance that progress.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. maternal death rates are trending in the wrong direction. Per the CDC:

  • The United States is the only developed nation in the world where maternal death rates are increasing.
  • U.S. women who are pregnant or give childbirth are more likely to die than women in any other developed country.
  • Between the years of 2000 to 2014, officials estimate that over 60% of maternal deaths were preventable.
  • Roughly 700 to 900 women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth each year in the U.S., and for each mother who dies, about 70 others suffer significant near-death complications – equivalent to more than 50,000 women each year.

What is Maternal Mortality?

Maternal mortality essentially means maternal death. According to the CDC, it involves death caused by:

  • Complications related to pregnancy
  • Linked issues and contiguous events brought about by pregnancy
  • Pregnancy’s impact of other, non-pregnancy-related conditions

While there are unique circumstances in every pregnancy and patient, the numbers show that, at least in the U.S., increasing rates of maternal death can be caused by more than serious and unavoidable complications. Many deaths are caused or contributed to by medical malpractice and the failures of health care providers to meet their “duty of care” when treating pregnant mothers.

Preventable Causes of Maternal Death & Need Changes

Given the alarming nature of these statistics, investigative reports from ProPublica, National Public Radio, and other organizations have taken a closer look at the U.S. health care system and potential reasons for the rise in maternal death rates. Their findings showed three major, and often preventable causes: (1) hemorrhaging in mothers following childbirth, (2) hypertensive crisis, or severe increase in blood pressure, and (3) blood clots which begin in the veins, or thrombosis / thromboembolism.

In their reports, investigative journalists and medical experts identified many areas of improvement and preventative measures where American health care professionals are falling short. The consensus, as they and many other experts and officials agree, is that there is a need for change. Some important steps they call for include:

  • Greater focus on maternal health – The U.S. health care system may be overly focused on newborn health, at least to the point of neglect the health and safety of mothers. NPR and ProPublica report that only a fraction (roughly 6 percent) of government spending on child and maternal health care actually funds efforts to keep moms safe. Even facilities with the latest NICU technologies and units are often not prepared to properly handle maternal emergencies.
  • Regulatory oversight – More regulations need to target maternal health, preparedness for health emergencies involving moms, and standardized practices. Regulatory oversight of doctor training is also needed. For example the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine doesn’t prioritize maternal health, and allows many doctors to complete their training without ever any in-the-field experience.
  • Collaboration among providers – Experts indicate the need for more intimate working relationships and collaboration among professionals and hospitals which care for pregnant mothers and offer maternal health and delivery services. This is especially true in rural areas and with smaller facilities that may need additional resources from others, or may have to send patients to facilities with the ability to fully address their emergencies.
  • Better policies – U.S. hospitals need to improve policies directly related to maternal health. One organization of medical professionals, AIM, recommends the implementation of specific policies and best practices for preparedness, identification of complications, response to emergencies, employee training, and reporting procedures that can prevent treatable complications from turning deadly.

Malpractice & Birth Injury Lawsuits: Victims’ Rights

While the mentioning of “birth injuries” or “medical malpractice” may cause most people to automatically think of harm suffered by newborns, the fact is that it can also include injuries, losses, and deaths suffered by mothers. When mothers do suffer harm during pregnancy, labor or delivery, or after birth, or when families experience the tragic loss of life, there may be options for victims to assert their rights and hold any responsible medical professionals or entities accountable.

Through birth injury and medical malpractice lawsuits, victims and families can work to prove who attending nurses, doctors, hospitals, and other providers delivered substandard care that resulted in injuries or death that could and should have been prevented.

Though investigations and work with relevant experts is necessary to prove such difficult claims, common examples of medical negligence and malpractice that can harm mothers include:

  • Misdiagnosis, failures to diagnose and properly treat complications during pregnancy
  • Surgical errors that can cause hemorrhaging or infections
  • Delayed C-sections or failures to perform a C-section
  • Misuse of vacuum extractors, forceps, and medical instruments during birth
  • Failures to monitor the health of mothers during pregnancy, labor, and delivery
  • Inadequate response to maternal health emergencies
  • Medication errors during any stage of pregnancy, childbirth, or post-birth

Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP: Our Proven Injury Lawyers Can Help

Medical professionals and providers have legal obligations to provide acceptable care, and victims have rights to hold them financially liable for their damages when they fail to meet that obligation. Not only can stepping forward to raise your claim help you and your loved ones pursue justice and needed financial recoveries, it can also act as desperately needed accountability in our health care system, spark greater awareness about the need for improvement in maternal health care, and potentially help others from suffering similar fates.

Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP is a Cleveland-based personal injury firm serving residents throughout Ohio. Our legal team has extensive experience in the field of medical malpractice, and we have a long-standing history of proven results and millions of dollars in compensation recoveries for our clients – even in the most challenging and complex medical cases. Contact us to speak with an attorney about your potential case.


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