SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – An alarming number of moms are dying throughout the United States due to complications with their pregnancy or their child’s birth.
According to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR last spring, approximately 26 women out of every one hundred thousand births die.That’s the highest rate of all developed countries.
The number of maternal deaths in Utah are generally below that national average. In 2014, Utah’s maternal mortality rate hovered just above 15.
Laurie Baksh is the Manager of the Maternal and Infant Health Program at the Utah Department of Health. Baksh explained that Utah has had years where the maternal mortality rate is above the national average, but that for the most part the state remains below.
“One or two death difference can make a big change in the rate that we see,” says Baksh.
Utah’s numbers are good, but experts agree there is always room for improvement.
“We think about maternal mortality and when women do die during pregnancy, it’s not always the women that we identify as high risk up front…and that’s why I think that vigilance is so important,” says Dr. Alexandra Eller from IMC in Murray.
Complications during pregnancy are referred to as maternal morbidity. This is any condition in the mother that is caused or worsened by pregnancy and childbirth. Morbidity can include things like high blood pressure, kidney failure, blood clots, and more. Doctors agree that recognizing morbidity is important, and is the only way to decrease the rate of mortality.
“We need to put resources into addressing the severe maternal morbidity, because that’s 30-50% more common than maternal mortality, and that’s where we’re going to find the issues where I think we can make effective interventions,” says Dr. Michael Varner, a Professor of Fetal Medicine and the Vice Chair of Research at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Dr. Eller agrees that the focus needs to be on these women. “My responsibility to my patients is to remain vigilant, to remain educated, to practice in an evidence based way, to stay current, to look at the big picture of a woman’s care…and to pay attention to that patient’s tell you that something is wrong or that they have a new symptom that they aren’t sure about,” she says.
Women who are thinking of becoming pregnant can start the process at home.
“If you can optimize mother’s health before she gets pregnant, then you can reduce these complications, and reducing these complications in turn improves long term health for mother and for her children,” explains Dr. Varner.
To optimize the health of the mother and baby, doctors recommend that, when possible, women have a preconception visit with their doctor.
Dr. Varner and Dr. Eller provided a few tips for women who are pregnant or are planning to conceive:
-Schedule a preconception visit
-Take prenatal vitamins and folic acid
-Give up habits like drinking and smoking
-Watch out for caffeine
-Aim for a healthy weight.
You can see more tips here.