According to a report released by the California Department of Public Health using data from 2002-2003, the rate of women dying from pregnancy-related complications is increasing at a statistically significant rate. More than a third of these deaths seem to have been preventable. Deaths related to pregnancy in California have risen from 8.0 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1999 to 14.0 deaths per 100,000 births in 2008. The statistics show that giving birth in especially dangerous for African-American women, who are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than women in other racial groups. Poor women are also at greater risk; more than half the women who died last year were Medi-Cal recipients.
In other words: Bosnia has a better maternal mortality rate than California. And we’re trying to cut funding for prenatal and maternal care?
This is a trend that has been identified repeatedly over the past ten years; I wrote about it last year, and noted that many doctors have identified the high rate of cesarean sections as a potential factor in the decreased safety in birth. C-sections still account for almost a third of U.S. births, although a 5% to 10% rate is best for mothers and babies. Many women get C-sections they don’t need, while others don’t have access to the potentially life-saving surgeries.
Other potential causes were unsurprising; the report found that excessive weight was a factor in one in four deaths. The number of women who enter pregnancy overweight is a greater and greater health concern. Cardiovascular disease was also identified as a factor in death from pregnancy-related causes, which was new to researchers, who had not previously linked the disease to maternal mortality.
Of the 36 fatalities that could probably have been prevented, the report said that health care professionals were responsible for 35. But the report also concluded that women need to enter pregnancy in better health, but also to maintain a healthy weight and diet during pregnancy, and to be aware of the risks associated with C-sections. The fact that poor and African-American women are disproportionately affected by maternal mortality is alarming, and signals that the last thing the federal government should be doing is pulling funding from organizations like Planned Parenthood, which help low-income women maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Photo from Flickr.