Lifesaving Tips for Safer Childbirth

What Expectant Mothers Need To Know To Properly Advocate for Themselves During Pregnancy

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Even before our healthcare system faced the extreme stress of a global pandemic, hospitals have stumbled in meeting one of healthcare's most basic callings — providing for a safe childbirth. An unfortunate statistic owned by hospitals in the United States is the highest rate of women dying during childbirth in the developed world. Women in our country are suffering life-altering injuries and death caused by hospitals and caregivers that fail to provide appropriate care to mothers before, during and after delivery.

African-American woman at pregnancy obstetrical checkup

This article is not meant to alarm, but to inform mothers to be. While the vast majority of deliveries occur without emergency situations, it is important for all expectant families to know the risks that exist for mothers surrounding childbirth — high blood pressure, preeclampsia, excessive bleeding, blood clotting and stroke — and how best to communicate with your obstetrician and delivery team about how to manage these risks.

Hospitals Are Failing To Protect Mothers During Childbirth

Recent in-depth reporting by USA Today, NPR and ProPublica has exposed this national trend of a rising maternal mortality rate and explains what women need to know in order to advocate for themselves.

Watch the video above, part of the USA Today investigation into maternal deaths: Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren't doing it.

Avoidable Maternal Deaths in the U.S.

In the video above Alison Young, USA Today investigative reporter, describes how women in the U.S have been dying at rates far higher than those with similar advanced healthcare systems. “It’s estimated that about 600 to 800 moms die each year in the United States. More than 50,000 women a year, the CDC estimates, suffer very serious harms, and what we learned is that a lot of the suffering is preventable.”

Based on 2015 data published in The Lancet in 2016, the U.S. maternal-mortality rate, per 100,000 live births was 26.4 (up from 16.9 in 1990). This is the highest among similarly wealthy countries such as Germany, France, Japan, England and Canada.

Graph showing maternal-mortality rate trend in U.S.

USA Today graphic. Source: The Lancet, 2016

Another report published on January 30, 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System came up with different data using a new method of coding maternal deaths. Still, when compared to 10 similar countries, the U.S. ranks 10th out 10.

Among the CDC findings using the 2018 data, highlighted by Vox:

  • 658 women died of maternal causes in the United States.
  • The overall maternal mortality rate was 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  • The maternal mortality rate gets higher with each older age group; women ages 40 and older die at a rate of 81.9 per 100,000 births, meaning they’re 7.7 times more likely to die compared to women under age 25.
  • The maternal death rate for black women was more than double that of white women: 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 14.7. It was also more than three times the rate for Hispanic women (11.8).
  • Source: Vox

With Focus on the Baby, Mothers Can Be Overlooked

According to USA Today Investigations best practices for maternal health should include doctors and nurses measuring blood loss, weighing bloody pads in order to quickly recognize danger to the mother. Medication should be administered within an hour of a dangerously high blood pressure reading in order to help prevent stroke.

"These are not complicated procedures requiring expensive technology. They are among basic tasks that experts have recommended for years because they can save mothers’ lives. Yet hospitals, doctors and nurses across the country continue to ignore them."
— Alison Young, USA Today

Dr. Steven Clark, a childbirth safety expert from Baylor College of Medicine says that some hospitals follow best practices, but that change is slow. The article quotes him: “It’s a failure at all levels, at national organization levels and at the local hospital leadership levels as well.”

According to the ProPublica and NPR reporting, The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth, "The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and 60 percent are preventable." By recounting the ordeal of the death of a neonatal nurse in the hospital where she worked, the story illustrates the unfortunate reality of a health care system that "focuses on babies but often ignores their mothers."

Maternal Deaths in Massachusetts

Lubin & Meyer recently reported on the situation here in Massachusetts on our Patient Safety Blog, Women Dying in Childbirth in U.S. — A Preventable Tragedy, which references a Boston Globe investigative report on maternal deaths at MetroWest Hospital. Lubin & Meyer attorneys represented the family at the center of that exposé which includes data on the trends of mothers dying in childbirth in the U.S. and in non-developed countries.

birth injury lawyer Kyrisa Syska photo"What's most disturbing about the increased trend in maternal deaths and injuries is that the medical profession knows how to prevent most of these harms. Hospitals aren't following recommended guidelines to identify high-risk pregnancies, and monitor and respond to a mother's well-being before, during and after delivery."
Krysia Syska, Birth Injury Attorney, Lubin & Meyer PC

Recent Maternal Death / Maternal Injury Lawsuits in Massachusetts

  • $12 million - Attorney Syska along with her partner Attorney Robert Higgins recently settled a medical malpractice case on behalf of a family of 34-year-old woman who died shortly after childbirth. It was found that the hospital had violated its own procedures and policies, was not credentialed to care for high-risk patients, and should have transferred the high-risk patient immediately upon arrival. The case settled quickly before filing a lawsuit.
  • $4 million - Another recent case settled by Lubin & Meyer for the failure to treat HELLP syndrome during labor which lead to the mother’s death. HELLP is rare but serious condition affecting pregnant women during or soon after having the baby. It causes problems with the blood, liver, and blood pressure and is believed to be linked to preeclampsia and eclampsia.
  • $35.4 million - Lubin & Meyer also represented a 28-year-old Massachusetts mother who suffered a life-altering stroke after giving birth. That medical malpractice lawsuit went to trial where a jury awarded her $35.4 million before interest for her ongoing care.

Click to view more: Childbirth Related Medical Malpractice Cases.

Tips for a Safer Childbirth

Infographic - How To Take Accurate Blood PRessure Reading

Sources: AIM Program, CMQCC, ACOG, Preeclampsia Foundation and USA TODAY research.

Most pregnancies and deliveries occur without dire complications. However, it is vital to ask questions and get answers to imporant information, especially if the mother may be at a high-risk of preeclampsia or other complications.

Download and print: Tips for a Safer Childbirth from USA Today Investigations

Childbirth Safety Guide

The guide provides detailed information and questions pregnant women should ask their delivery team in these key areas:

  1. Make sure they are measuring any blood loss
  2. Pay close attention to blood pressure readings
  3. Be on the lookout for preeclampsia warning signs
  4. Insist that blood pressure is taken properly.

Download full tip sheet here.

Note: This article is meant to be eduational and to raise awareness of some of the issues that pregnant women and their families should discuss with their doctor and care team. It is not medical advice and should not substitute for serious conversations with and advice from your physician.

See also:

Protecting Your Birth: A Guide For Black Mothers

How racism can impact your pre- and postnatal care — and advice for speaking to your Ob-Gyn about it. (New York Times)

Black Mothers Childbirth Guide

Questions about a maternal or birth injury in MA, NH or RI?

Lubin & Meyer birth injury attorneys are available to answer your questions related to your medical care before, during and after delivery.

Contact Us - There is no fee or cost to you to have your case evaluated by our experience legal and medical team. Call (617) 720-4447 to speak with an attorney today.

Lubin & Meyer PC - Boston’s Innovative Leader in Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law

Our medical malpractice lawyers are licensed to practice in:
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