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U.S. Maternal Mortality Is the Worst in the Developed World and It's Not OK

by
author image Vivian Manning-Schaffel
Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a journalist, essayist, senior copywriter and rabblerouser who lives and works in Brooklyn, N.Y. A contributing editor at Working Mother and Time Out New York Kids, her work has also been featured in US Weekly, CBS Watch!, Parents, Parenting, The New York Times and The New York Post.
U.S. Maternal Mortality Is the Worst in the Developed World and It's Not OK
American women are six times more likely to die than Scandinavians and three times more likely to die than Canadian women in the “maternal period.” Photo Credit: freepeoplea/Adobe Stock

According to a survey from NPR and ProPublica, more women die of complications relating to pregnancy in the U.S. than any other developed country. Are you shocked by this news? So are we.

Some 700 to 900 women per year die in U.S. hospitals during childbirth, while 65,000 come close to dying — and those numbers are on the rise. But here’s the most disturbing part of it all: The CDC Foundation estimates some 60 percent of these deaths were preventable.

NPR and ProPublica spent six months examining what the possible causes might be, considering that the U.S. is purported to have top-notch medical care and holds 41 percent of the world’s wealth. It turns out that hospitals are so focused on infant safety that they are “woefully unprepared” for maternal emergencies.

In fact, the article says that American women are six times more likely to die than Scandinavians and three times more likely to die than Canadian women in the “maternal period” (that’s the period from conception to a year after delivery or termination).

This is completely appalling, considering that every other country among the “wealthy” — yet still less so than the U.S. — have dropping maternal mortality rates. Take Great Britain, for example, where “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is,” according to a study published in The Lancet.

Here are a few of NPR and ProPublica’s key findings:

—African American, low-income and rural abiding women have significantly greater odds of dying during the maternal period.

—More new moms have C-sections than ever, which can lead to complications.

—New moms tend to be older and have more complicated medical histories.

—Just 6 percent of Federal and State block grants for "maternal and child health" are allocated to maternal health.

—50 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so chronic health issues are sometimes shelved beforehand — especially due to poverty and lack of health insurance.

—New doctors specializing in maternal-fetal medicine complete training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.

In the face of such a legitimate health concern, NPR notes that the potential upcoming changes to the Affordable Care Act could further strip away Medicaid coverage for new mothers, leaving low-income women already at risk even more vulnerable.

In honor of Mother’s Day this past weekend, Sheryl Sandberg, a mother of two, called upon the U.S. government to step up and do more for working women, considering some 40 percent of U.S. households with children rely on the woman of the house to bring home the bacon.

“It’s time for our public policies to catch up with what our families deserve and what our values demand,” Sandberg said in her call to arms.

What Do YOU Think?

How do you feel about these horrifying statistics? Do you think more government money should go to maternal health? Let us know in the comments below.

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