Maternal mortality is a serious and consistent problem in the United States, plaguing states across the country and revealing profound inadequacies in the healthcare system. New data published by the National Center for Health Statistics demonstrates this striking reality and further expounds the extent of the issue of maternal death in America. Whether you or someone you love is currently pregnant, you are considering having a baby, or someone in your family died before, during, or soon after childbirth, it is critical to be aware of the potential causes of maternal mortality and the role that healthcare providers can play in the prevention or causation of pregnancy-related death.
As experienced malpractice attorneys representing mothers and babies who have been injured during birth, as well as the families of those who have lost loved ones due to obstetric negligence in New Jersey, we are all-too-aware of what happens when obstetricians and other doctors fail to provide adequate care. Continue reading to learn more about maternal mortality and the latest information on pregnancy-related death rates in the U.S. If you would like to speak with an attorney who can examine the circumstances of your case and advise you of your rights and options, contact us at 866-708-8617 or request a free consultation online today.
What is Maternal Mortality?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal mortality refers to the death of a pregnant woman, or a woman within 42 days of pregnancy termination, regardless of the site or duration of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, aside from incidental or accidental causes. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines pregnancy-related death as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 1 year of the end of the pregnancy, regardless of the outcome, duration or site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes. The potential causes of maternal death are manifold, ranging from postpartum hemorrhage to eclampsia complications.
How Common is Maternal Mortality in the United States?
While maternal mortality occurs more frequently in developing countries than in developed countries like the U.S., it remains a persistent problem affecting hundreds of American women each and every year. The CDC began tracking pregnancy-related death rates in 1986 through the adoption of the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is the official governmental entity that tracks maternal mortality statistics through the National Vital Statistics System. Concerned with underrepresentation of death rates related to pregnancy and childbirth, official death certificates were adapted in 2003 to include a check box for pregnancy. This significant change resulted in the NCHS’s suspension of statistical data collection while the new death certificates were being adopted. In 2018, the NCHS changed its method of coding maternal death statistical data for better accuracy in arriving at maternal mortality rates.
Referred to as the 2018 coding method, the NCHS adjusted its application of maternal codes to a narrower range of decedents when the death certificate indicates pregnancy or an underlying cause of death with no other indications of pregnancy aside from the checked box. Using this more refined statistical calculation method, the NCHS reports 658 deaths attributable to pregnancy and childbearing in 2018, which amounts to 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. When distinguishing by race, the maternal mortality ratio is far greater for non-white mothers. In fact, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic black women in the U.S. was a shocking 37.1 in 2018.
In addition, the death rate of older mothers was significantly higher than that of younger women who died while pregnant or due to pregnancy-related causes. Specifically, the mortality rate for women ages 40 and above was 81.9 per 100,000 live births, while the rates were 16.6 and 10.6 for women ages 25-39 and 25 and younger, respectively.
Causes of Maternal Death
Maternal mortality, according to the World Health Organization, includes deaths due to the pregnancy itself or its maintenance, occurring during pregnancy up to 42 days after pregnancy, and excludes other causes. Deaths are further broken down into directly or indirectly caused by, or related to, pregnancy and childbirth. In 2018, 77% of maternal deaths were attributed to direct causes in the U.S., and 23% to indirect causes. However, other complex causes of maternal death may be known or unknown medical conditions or complications. Some of the recognized causes of maternal death include:
- Postpartum eclampsia
- Abortive occurrences
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Maternal Infection or Sepsis
- Placenta previa
- Anesthesia complications
- Pulmonary embolism
- Amniotic fluid embolism; and
- Other cardiovascular conditions
This new data serves physicians and patients alike, by alerting them to potential complications associated with pregnancy and delivery, so that they may be better prepared to avoid and address conditions causing maternal and fetal fatalities. Further, being alert and abreast of the causes and frequency of maternal death may help doctors carve out tailored practices for statistically identified at-risk pregnancies, including closer monitoring, prevention, and treatment. Ultimately, the goal for every pregnancy should be to protect and support the health of the expecting mother and her child, with extreme care and attention dedicated to reducing the risk of mistakes that may cause serious harm, possibly constituting medical malpractice.
Maternal Mortality Resulting from Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice claims assert that a healthcare provider negligently caused injury to a patient due to diagnosis, treatment, or management errors. The majority of malpractice lawsuits result from missed diagnoses or misdiagnoses of medical conditions, patient injuries during treatment, improper treatment of patient conditions, incomplete documentation, and medication errors. Other forms of negligence include misreading or overlooking lab results, unnecessary or botched surgeries, poor follow-up care, incomplete patient history, and failure to order appropriate tests. With the breath of potential errors that may be considered malpractice, it is easy to see how many things can go wrong when caring for a woman during pregnancy, in labor and delivery, and after childbirth.
For instance, failing to control maternal bleeding after delivery; not detecting or recognizing a mother’s high blood pressure as signs of preeclampsia; misdiagnosing a maternal infection, gestational diabetes, or another pregnancy-related condition; making errors during a cesarean delivery (C-section); or failing to monitor a mother’s breathing before or after delivery may constitute negligence resulting in injury or death.
When a mother is injured or dies as a result of obstetric negligence, she or her surviving family may seek damages for things like disability, medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, future economic loss, and in the case of wrongful death, loss of companionship or consortium. To successfully prosecute a malpractice action, the plaintiff must prove negligence, which refers to a healthcare provider’s care falling below the acceptable and expected standard of medical care for similarly situated healthcare professionals given the particular set of circumstances. In addition, you must establish that such negligence caused the victim’s injury or harm. For example, if a pregnant woman suffers seizures or a brain hemorrhage due to undiagnosed preeclampsia or another medical condition, the doctor, hospital, and other healthcare providers may be held accountable for their negligence through a legal claim for malpractice.
Maternal Death due to Medical Mistakes? Get NJ Pregnancy Malpractice Lawyer Help
If an obstetrician overlooked or failed to properly manage a pregnancy-related condition leading to injuries or death for you or someone you love, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice action. What should your doctor have known about the pregnancy and delivery to avoid harm to you, a loved one, or your baby? A team of knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyers, working with medical experts in the field, can assess and identify if and when negligence occurred before, during, or after childbirth. In New Jersey and elsewhere, malpractice lawsuits are highly complex with strict deadlines. Contact us at 866-708-8617 for a free consultation with an experienced NJ birth malpractice attorney who can best advise you on your case.