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On May 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report analyzing the country’s alarmingly high maternal mortality rate, which makes the U.S. the most dangerous developed country in the world to give birth. The report investigates the deaths of mothers during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and up to one year following birth.

The report confirms previously established racial disparities – Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native mothers are three times more likely to die than white ones – but added that most deaths could have been prevented regardless of race. In fact, a staggering three of every five pregnancy-related maternal deaths could be preventable with better medical care.

Maternal deaths are a huge public health problem in the United States. Each year, 50,000 new mothers suffer serious childbirth-related complications and another 700 mothers die. Hospitals have been known to blame the rising maternal death rate on the mothers themselves, citing factors such as age, weight, and preexisting health issues to justify the unsafe delivery.

The top causes of maternal death from 2011 to 2015 were heart disease and stroke, which together contributed to one in three deaths. During birth, emergency situations such as hemorrhage and amniotic fluid embolism came out on top. Between a week and a year after giving birth, a weakened heart muscle condition called cardiomyopathy was the leading cause.

The CDC’s report calls for health care providers to do more to help their patients by managing chronic pain and educating them about the warning signs of serious complications. It also calls for hospitals and health systems to standardize the way providers respond to childbirth-related emergencies.

Washington D.C. is considered the most dangerous place to give birth in the United States, with a maternal mortality rate more than twice the national average. D.C.-based Dr. Connie Bohon has taken initiative in addressing this problem, receiving D.C. Council approval in April 2019 to form a Maternal Mortality Review Committee in the city: “we’re going to look at everything: the hospitals, the community, is there a lack of care in certain parts of the city, the answer is probably going to be yes for that.”

The medical negligence of a physician or failure of a hospital to implement safe, high-quality care policies are unacceptable excuses for the United States’ maternal mortality crisis. It’s time for them to do better.

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