Most pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are fully preventable — and they can happen up to a year after a woman gives birth, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although many people think pregnancy ends in the delivery room, the new report underscores the enormous toll it can take on women’s bodies for a full year after — and, as many moms would argue, much longer.
About 700 women die from pregnancy and childbirth every year in the U.S., according to the report. Of those, 31 percent die during pregnancy, 36 percent die during childbirth or in the first week postpartum, and 33 percent die at some point in the first year after they give birth.
And roughly 60 percent of those deaths could be prevented.
“Every death reflects a web of missed opportunities,” says the CDC, blaming lack of access to health care, missed and delayed diagnoses, and overlooked warning signs.
The CDC defines a pregnancy-related death as one that occurs because of complications from pregnancy or childbirth; because of a chain of events kicked off by a woman’s pregnancy; or because of a seemingly unrelated condition that was worsened by pregnancy.
Severe bleeding and embolisms were the top causes of death during delivery. In the first week postpartum, severe bleeding, high blood pressure and infection were the most common causes of death.
Weakened heart muscles caused most deaths that occurred later — at some point in the first year after a woman gave birth. Pregnancy and childbirth tax the heart and circulatory system, increasing blood volume by up to 50 percent. Women with known heart conditions require special, watchful care.
The United States is the only developed country in the world where the maternal mortality rate is increasing, particularly among women of color — and lack of postpartum support is a major contributing factor.
“We are the only high-income country in the world without paid maternity leave,” Alison Stuebe, a maternal-fetal medicine physician and the medical director of lactation services at University of North Carolina Health Care, told HuffPost. “Moms covered by pregnancy Medicaid are kicked off 60 days after having a baby. These are decisions we have made as a society.”
Indeed, one-quarter of new moms in the U.S. return to work within two weeks of giving birth.
And estimates suggest that up to 40 percent of women do not attend any kind of postpartum visit with a health care provider.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is working to address the lack of postpartum support for women but admits that significant policy changes will be necessary to improve health care for recent mothers. Rather than reimbursing expenses for one isolated visit, the group says postpartum care must be covered as an ongoing process.
“Moms are dying in America because we don’t take care of them,” Stuebe said.