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Bringing a life into the world should not cost a mother her life. It has been said before that women are closest to death during labor, but research studies show that a mother’s risk of death can actually begin early in pregnancy and extend as long as 42 days after pregnancy. Sadly, this trend is common throughout the world, including in developed countries that spend more money on healthcare.

Take a moment to imagine the story of a 25-year-old woman who experienced light vaginal bleeding in her 3rd month of pregnancy, sought care, experienced heavy bleeding, felt cold and faint in her 8th month of pregnancy, and had trouble accessing care due to a lack of finances and transportation to a community health center. She needed a blood transfusion, so she was transferred to another hospital one hour away where she arrived unconscious and died soon after. The question we are left asking is what happened and what could have been done for this situation to have turned out differently?

It is clear that maternal health care is not just about the act of providing care. Instead, we recognize the negative outcomes and responses to care, which reveal the need to question the model of maternal care we have become so accustomed to. In the words of Dr. Mary D’Alton, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, “Between the health care we have and the health care we could have, lies not just a gap but a chasm.” There are a number of factors that contribute to the gap between health care that is responsive versus the cookie cutter model of health care that is provided; and, the only way for stakeholders to start addressing this problem is through broadened knowledge, specialized information, and the education and empowerment of women and their families.

Learning the Hidden Language of Pregnancy

Besides nursery decorating and baby naming, every potential or soon-to-be mother should learn the hidden language of pregnancy. The truth is your physician, nurse, midwife, or other healthcare provider may not always inform you of your risk for certain health issues related to pregnancy because they do not foresee the risks, or are unaware of risk factors that could cause a possible issue. Maternal health, which is the health of women during pregnancy (perinatal/antenatal), childbirth (delivery), and the period immediately following birth (postnatal/postpartum), are usually more likely to be affected by the following five potentially fatal complications: hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, and obstructed labor. Many women are not properly informed about the risks that lead to these five complications and, with a doctor-centered approach to care, it is even more difficult for patients to understand the signs and symptoms that lead to these complications.

A growing amount of research has shown that ineffective or insufficient communication among team members can lead to adverse events. However, in the case of providers and their patients, this becomes even more difficult when the poor collaborative communication between women receiving maternal care and their providers is revealed. The end result will almost always be one or more of the complications mentioned earlier, an increased length of stay in a healthcare facility after delivery, or patient mortality.

Though communication between a patient and their provider is of great importance, the main triggers that influence the health of mothers during pregnancy and post-pregnancy affect every aspect of patients’ daily lives. The problem with social factors being risks or triggers for maternal health burdens is that they can potentially become heightened depending on factors that the mother cannot control. Factors like lack of income, resources, insurance, access to care, transportation, or properly skilled health workers, all represent situations in which women educating and empowering themselves becomes a mode of survival?—?literally, survival of the fittest.

Identifying (Potential) Maternal Health Issues

It is never too soon to start evaluating your personal maternal health. Indeed, certain factors can put you and your baby at a greater risk of experiencing complications during or after pregnancy, and it is imperative that you are aware, informed, and ready to act for the purpose of maintaining the health of yourself and your child because your health is a right that you and your family deserve. So, be aware of the following factors that could affect you negatively during or post-pregnancy:

  • Obesity (increases risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia)
  • Cardiovascular disease (increases risk of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, tobacco abuse, and a stressful lifestyle)
  • Untreated/undiagnosed mental illness (increases risk of postpartum depression)
  • Conceiving later in life (increases risk of placental damage)
  • Overuse of labor induction or cesarean-section (increases risk of postpartum infection and hysterectomy)
  • Poor postpartum care (increases risk of infection, deep vein thrombosis, and hemorrhage)
  • Barriers in healthcare (communication, wait times, language, access, etc.)
  • Lack of cultural competency implemented by providers
  • Social determinants (income, environment, location, racism, culture/religion/ethnicity, lack of safe housing, bad hygiene, etc.)

Just as the 25-year-old woman died senselessly due to a mix of these preventable factors as well as a lack of monitoring by her provider, the World Health Organization reports that 830 women die each day due to pregnancy complications. But, all hope is not lost! With a little bit of help from women and their providers and a lot of health communication, these maternal health issues can be effectively addressed.

Share this article, respond below with your experiences, and stay tuned for future pieces on solutions to shift maternal care.