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Severe Complications From Childbirth On The Rise

Hospitals have expended significant effort over the years to reduce the number of infants who die during childbirth. A recent study concerning a spike in severe complications striking mothers has brought attention to the need to do more to make childbirth safer for mothers, as well. From 1999 to 2009, medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, kidney failure and respiratory distress struck mothers 75 percent more frequently than in the preceding decade according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The spike may reflect a change in demographics for delivering mothers, but it is still important for hospitals to take steps to address this trend.

In 1970, the average age of a woman becoming a mother for the first time was 21. By 2008, that number had risen to slightly over 25. Older women are generally more likely to suffer health complications during and after childbirth than younger women. Another factor is the health of the woman before she becomes pregnant. More women who suffer from chronic health conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease are having children than in prior decades. The increased rate of obesity is also cited as a factor in the increase in maternal health complications at childbirth. Regardless of the cause, hospitals need to prepare to deal with severe complications that are growing increasingly common.

Many serious maternal complications involve severe bleeding, or hemorrhage. These cases may be connected to the sharp rise in Caesarean births that has occurred since 1996. A condition known as placenta accreta is associated with the surgical scar resulting from a Caesarean birth and can result in severe hemorrhage after delivery.

The lead author of the study and chief of the CDC's maternal and child health bureau, William Callaghan, referred to the findings as a "clarion call" for hospitals to address maternal health issues. He suggested that the trend highlights the importance of a highly trained team that understands how to respond to the health crises that strike mothers during and after childbirth.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Steep Rise of Complications in Childbirth Spurs Action," by Laura Landro, 10 December 2012

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