Parents Perspective

Why Is the Maternal Death Rate Increasing in the U.S.?

woman in third trimester
Working at Parents means that I have a good amount of exposure to the world of pregnancy and parenthood, so it's no surprise a lot of thoughts go through my head about "what could go wrong." When I think about getting pregnant in the future, I get anxious about everything from "Will I have to throw up on the commuter train?" to "Will my child be born with a birth defect?" But something I never really considered is the small but very real possibility that I could die while giving birth to my child.

Living through childbirth seems like something I could take for granted. After all, I live in the United States, a first-world country with amazing hospitals. The truth is that our country is actually experiencing an increased maternal death rate. According to the CDC, the United States had 7.2 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987. In 2011, there were 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2013, the number rose again to 18.5. We are the only advanced economy in the world that is seeing a trend in the wrong direction.

The medical community points to several factors that are causing this health crisis. Many pregnant women don't have access to the health insurance they need, especially in the South. In rural areas, there is also a logistical problem when it comes to medical care. In Mississippi, there are only 160 doctors for every 100,000 people. Babies are sometimes born in route to the hospital because the drive is so long.

Experts also say that how pregnant women communicate with their doctor could literally be a life or death situation. "A big problem is providers don't always listen to women," said associate professor at Belhaven University and registered nurse Elise Turner at last week's Women of the World conference. She told the story of a woman who came to the hospital saying she didn't feel right, was sent home, and then was found by her neighbor in labor and profusely bleeding. The takeaway for pregnant women is to be direct with your doctor and insist on getting the care that you need. Be sure to have regular check ups and keep the lines of communication open.

The bottom line is that nearly half of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable and yet we are still left with these astonishing numbers. As a millennial, it's scary to think that it was safer for our moms' generation to give birth than it is for the current generation. We are in a health crisis, and I hope our country is able to do something about it.

Related: How to Choose an Ob-Gyn or Midwife

Hannah Werthan is the associate social media editor for Parents.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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