Image of a woman's hands on holding her pregnant belly in a white sweater

Top 5 Causes of Maternal Deaths in the U.S

Understanding Pregnancy-Related Deaths

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), major complications during pregnancy account for roughly 75% of all maternal deaths — many of which can be prevented. Medical professionals have a legal duty of care when it comes to their patients, and when a certain standard of skill and care is not met, the result could be more compilations or worse — death.

When it comes to pregnancy and maternal care, the following are the top reasons women die before, during, or after childbirth.

Obstetric Emergencies

An obstetric emergency can not only be life-threatening to the mother, but it can also put the baby in jeopardy. Obstetric emergencies can arise during pregnancy, labor, or birth. When a pregnant mother has any of the following problems, it's critical to get medical care immediately. Some of the top obstetric emergencies include:

  • Severe bleeding - One of the top symptoms of a pregnancy complication is severe bleeding. Heavy bleeding that is not addressed immediately can cause hemorrhaging that can lead to maternal death. Some of the most common conditions that can cause a pregnant woman to bleed are:
    • Ectopic pregnancy
    • Incompetent cervix
    • Placental disruption
    • Placenta Previa
    • Preterm labor
    • Uterine rupture
  • Amniotic fluid embolism - A rare but severe complication; this occurs when amniotic fluid or fetal material enters the mother's bloodstream. This condition can be challenging to diagnose because there aren't any diagnostic tests that can be performed. Doctors must pay attention to clinical symptoms, such as:
    • Low blood pressure
    • Shortness of breath
    • Excess fluid in the lungs
    • Sudden low blood pressure
    • Bleeding from the uterus
    • Fetal distress
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Seizures

Maternal Infections

Sepsis or septic shock happens when the body has an extreme response when working to combat an infection. The following maternal infections can trigger sepsis:

  • Pelvic infections/pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Group B streptococcal infection
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • The flu
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Rubella

Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are both conditions related to high blood pressure during pregnancy. Without immediate and proper treatment, maternal death can occur, as well as complications for the baby. Here are the differences between the two:

  • Preeclampsia occurs when the mother's high blood pressure causes a reduction in blood supply to the baby. This means the baby will also receive less oxygen and nutrients.
  • Eclampsia occurs when a mother has preeclampsia and develops seizures or goes into a coma as a result.

Though the causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia are still unknown, risk factors such as lack of blood flow to the placenta, hormonal imbalances, and genetic conditions could play a role in developing these maternal conditions.

Cephalopelvic Disproportion

A common, yet preventable, cause of maternal death is obstructed labor. One of the top reasons for obstructed labor is cephalopelvic disproportion. This complication can happen when:

  • A baby is too large to fit through a mother's pelvis
  • The mother has an abnormally shaped pelvis
  • The baby's head is unusually shaped
  • The labor is delayed
  • The baby is in an abnormal fetal position

Cephalopelvic disproportion may not be easy for doctors to diagnose. However, when doctors take proper measurements of the baby in utero and the mother's pelvis, they could determine early enough if there is a particular risk of the baby being too big to pass through the birth canal. Early detection can give doctors time to schedule a C-section to avoid complications for the mother and baby.

Missed or Delayed Diagnosis

Any delayed or missed diagnosis of a maternal condition can lead to the harm of the mother and the baby. Not only can a missed or delayed diagnosis result in the worsening of a health condition or disease, but the long-term impact on the mother and baby can result in devastating consequences. There are specific protocols and diagnostic testing procedures that doctors must use to detect possible complications.

When doctors or other medical professionals fail to conduct the proper tests at each trimester stage, medical malpractice can be considered. Some of the most common tests in the determination of pregnancy complications are:

  • Blood tests
  • Glucose screening
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Urine tests
  • Carrier screening for genetic conditions
  • Ultrasound
  • Infection testing

If your doctor's failure to diagnose a complication caused a birth injury or preventable maternal complication that leads to long-term medical problems, it's critical to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for help recovering compensation.

How Maternal Complications Can Be Prevented

Since many factors can complicate a woman's pregnancy and lead to death, it's critical for women to stay informed and take charge of their health during every stage of pregnancy. It's also essential to have good, open communication with your doctor.

Communicating effectively with your doctor can ensure you receive the best care possible and avoid any complications, should a medical problem be detected. Here are some tips on how mothers can take charge of their health:

  • Listen to your body. If you feel something is "off" or you have unusual symptoms, speak to your doctor immediately.
  • Don't smoke cigarettes and refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Avoid foods that are considered harmful for pregnant women, such as rare meats, undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, and cheese.
  • Maintain a healthy pregnancy weight. Being overweight or having diabetes can trigger dangerous pregnancy conditions, such as preeclampsia.

Maternal complications can also be the catalyst to birth injuries or fetal death. Some of the most common birth injuries that can be associated with maternal conditions are:

Maternal Death Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report the following statistics related to maternal death cases:

  • Approximately 700 women die from pregnancy-related deaths each year.
  • 3 out of every 5 pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.
  • 1 out of every 3 pregnancy-related deaths occurs 1 week to 1 year after delivery.
  • Heart disease and stroke caused 34% of maternal deaths between 2011 and 2015.
  • Black and American Indian/Alaskan women are 3 times as likely to die from pregnancy complications than their white female counterparts.
  • The maternal mortality rate in 2018 was 17.4 per 100,000 live births.
  • Women aged 40 and over were approximately 8 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than women under 25.

Suffered Harm During or After Pregnancy? Contact Us Today

There's nothing more devastating than the death of a loved one during their pregnancy or after giving birth. At The Beasley Firm, LLC, we make it our mission to help those who were harmed due to medical professionals' negligence and help them recover the compensation they deserve.

Our firm has successfully litigated maternal death and birth injury cases in Pennsylvania since 1958. We have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for mothers and their families who have suffered otherwise preventable harm.

The Beasley Firm secured two of the top medical negligence verdicts in Pennsylvania's history, with recoveries of $100 million and $55 million. When you need a medical malpractice attorney on your side, we are here for you. We will fight for your rights as no other firm will.

Contact The Beasley Firm, LLC at (215) 866-2424 to schedule a free consultation with our team today.

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