Pregnancy-related deaths appear to have risen in the U.S. over the past decade, nearly tripling in California, the state with the most careful count. The maternal mortality rate is four times higher than a goal the federal government set for this year.
Maternal mortality gets little public attention in the U.S. Among the leading preventable causes are hemorrhage, DVT-caused pulmonary emboli and uncontrolled blood pressure.
It's not clear what's fueling the overall increase, but there are some suspects:
- A jump in cesarean deliveries that now account for almost a third of births
- One in five pregnant women is obese, spurring high blood pressure and diabetes
- More women are having babies in their late 30s and beyond
If you didn’t already know this, American medical care is the most expensive in the world.
The U.S. spends more than twice as much on each person for health care as most other industrialized countries. And yet it has fallen to last place among those countries in preventing avoidable deaths through use of timely and effective medical care -- and this includes among new moms.
In the last decade, pregnancy-related deaths have gone up a concerning amount. In California, such deaths have tripled in the last 10 years, and overall the maternal mortality rate is 13.3 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births -- over four times the U.S. government’s 2010 goal of 3.3.
Why are So Many New Moms Dying?
There are likely a number of contributing factors, but one glaring contributor is most certainly the excessive number of cesarean childbirths.
A woman’s risk of death during delivery is three to five times higher during cesarean than a natural delivery, her risk of hysterectomy four times higher, and her risk of being admitted to intensive care is two times higher.
There are other risks that come with this major surgery as well, including:
- Infection to various organs including the uterus, bladder or kidneys
- Increased blood loss
- Increased risk of complications in future pregnancies
- Decreased bowel function
- Respiratory complications
- Longer hospital stay and recovery time
- Adverse reactions to anesthesia
- Risk of additional surgeries such as hysterectomy or bladder repair
Despite the steep risks, cesarean section is actually the most common operation performed in the United States, and accounts for a whopping 31 percent of births.
This is a rate that even The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists admits is worrisome. It’s also the highest rate ever reported in the United States, and a rate higher than in most other developed countries.
For comparison, according to the World Health Organization, no country is justified in having a cesarean rate greater than 10 percent to 15 percent!
If the cesarean rate were to go down, it’s virtually guaranteed that the maternal death rate would follow.
Obesity Poses Another Risk
Along with the overuse of cesarean surgery, obesity is likely another risk factor. One in five pregnant women is obese, according to USA Today, and other statistics show that over half of women between the childbearing ages of 20 and 39 are overweight or obese.
Obesity can wreak havoc on your health under normal circumstances, but during pregnancy that havoc will affect your unborn child as well as your risks after delivery.
Among the complications associated with obesity during pregnancy are:
- Increased rates of hypertensive disease, cesarean section and infections
- Higher rates of blood clots and respiratory complications
- Independent risk factor for neural tube defects, fetal mortality and preterm delivery
- Increased risk for having a child who may have an increased risk of subsequent childhood obesity and its associated morbidity
Studies also show that overweight or obese women have a greater tendency than normal-weight women to produce children who will also become overweight.
So it’s important to your health and to your baby’s to keep your weight within reasonable parameters, so you can both avoid problems down the road.
One Simple Way to Help Avoid Cesarean Birth and Other Pregnancy Complications
One of the best ways to have a complication-free childbirth is to choose the right type of health care provider. This may be surprising for many of you, but that person may not be an obstetrician.
There is a misconception in the United States that having a hospital birth with an obstetrician is the safest way to give birth. But there is not a single report in the scientific literature that shows obstetricians to be safer than midwives for low risk or normal pregnancy and birth.
Obstetricians are specially trained surgeons, taught from early on how to use surgical and other medical interventions to assist in childbirth. They certainly have their place in the medical field, as obstetricians excel at helping high-risk women deliver babies safely. But this is the minority of women.
More than 75 percent of women have normal pregnancies, meaning all of the surgical interventions obstetricians are trained to use are unnecessary. In these cases, a midwife, who is there to offer help, education and support during pregnancy, labor, delivery and after, is actually the safest, most qualified birth attendant.
Cesarean rates are typically lower among midwife-assisted births compared to obstetrician births, so this is an important factor to consider in making your decision. For tips on finding a qualified midwife, please read my past article Natural Birth is Best.
How to Stay Healthy During, and After, Pregnancy
In order to avoid pregnancy, and post-pregnancy, complications, you’ll want to be as healthy as possible before, during and after childbirth. This includes not only eating right and exercising regularly, but also:
- Taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil. I am convinced that the single most important dietary influence on your prenatal health is adequate omega-3 fats. Most women have major deficiencies of this fat, and given the statistics, it’s very possible you do too.
Optimizing your omega-3 intake will not only virtually guarantee that your baby will be full term, but it is so essential to a child's development that if a mother and infant are deficient, the child's nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders.
- Optimizing your vitamin D levels. I am convinced that in the not too distant future it will be mandatory for pregnant women to receive regular vitamin D blood test levels. Along with reducing your risk of premature birth, studies have found that vitamin D may protect against a number of birth defects and autism.
It is absolutely imperative that pregnant women maintain a blood level of between 50 and 70 ng/ml of 25 hydroxy D. So please watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture to find out how to get your levels optimized.
- Make sure you keep your fructose level under 25 grams per day. There is enormous emerging evidence of the danger of excess fructose ingestion. It will increase insulin and leptin resistance and also radically increase total inflammation in your body, which can cause pregnancy complications. So please be sure and count your fructose grams and keep your uric acid level under 5.5.
If you want even more tips on how to optimize your and your baby’s health during pregnancy and beyond, please read my No-Nonsense Guide to a Naturally Healthy Pregnancy and Baby.