The Washington Post reported yesterday that maternal mortality rates are on the rise (based on statistics from 2003). The article throws out a couple of ideas as to why (rising c-section rates, obesity, maternal age increases). These statistics have been used by birth advocates as evidence of the failure of the US model of maternity care, which sometimes puts the mother at more risk. The US consistently ranks at the bottom of developing countries when it comes to infant mortality.
The hardest thing to understand is how in this day and age, in a modern hospital with doctors and nurses, that somebody can just die like that.
I think those of us working with birth in today’s hospital could think of a few reasons why. Interventions done in the name of safety can have more complications than the birth itself. More drugs and more surgeries mean more risk to the mother and child.
Some researchers point to the rising C-section rate, now 29 percent of all births–far higher than what public health experts say is appropriate. Like other surgeries, Caesareans come with risks related to anesthesia, infections and blood clots.
In addition we have major health disparities which mean that some women get excellent and consistent reproductive health care, and others get almost none. We have to find low cost and reasonable solutions for our health care crisis, and some states, like Florida, have caught on to the bright idea that alternative models of maternity care can save money. Midwifery care, because it is based on a minimal intervention model works extremely well for the average woman, and seriously reduces costs.
It’s becoming increasing obvious that our model of maternity care isn’t working–malpractice rates are through the roof, obstetricians are not delivering babies and women and children are still dying at rates that are higher than in other countries. Maybe someday soon we can start listening to the World Health Organization, who has consistently recommended cesarean and induction rates much lower than we currently have.