Current Issues in Maternal Health
This Saturday my colleagues and I will be celebrating Maternal Health Awareness Day, which is observed every year on January 23. Our aim is to raise issues that have led to increased rates of maternal mortality. That’s right. While one might not expect maternal death to be a major problem in the United States, it is. In fact, maternal mortality is on the rise. And 60 percent of the deaths are preventable.
Here’s a quick overview of the problems and some of what OB/GYNs nationwide are doing to help turn it around.
One of the biggest causes of maternal mortality is inequality. Maternal mortality affects black women at a rate three-to-four times greater than white women. American Indian and Alaska Native women die at a rate two-to-three times higher. This is inexcusable. We understand the urgency in finding ways to provide high-quality care to all.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has made a commitment to “eliminating disparities in women’s health and to confronting implicit and explicit bias and racism. This means recognizing and examining our own prejudice and bias and addressing the way in which health care systems perpetuate inequality.” Much of our advanced training is focused on increasing our ability to provide care equitably.
The second major issue is postpartum depression. We are working to ensure that postpartum care begins during pregnancy. This involves making sure that all women understand the support available to them after their babies are born.
We are also working together with our colleagues—at the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, the Society for Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Society for Maternal–Fetal Medicine—to redefine the postpartum visit; to increase the number of visits from one to several, if needed; and to put a greater emphasis on mental and emotional well-being.
Finally, we are proud to participate in ACOG’s Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health, which began in 2014 with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is a national data-driven maternal safety and quality improvement initiative based on interdisciplinary consensus-based practices to improving maternal safety and outcomes. In short, colleagues from across the country are working together to study ways we can improve. And when we find something that works, we are sharing it with everyone.
We hope that raising these issues in our community will help everyone take on a small role towards improving maternal health, right here. To learn more about Maternal Health Awareness Day and see how OB/GYNs nationwide are contributing to improved health for our patients, follow #123ForMoms on Saturday.
Kimberley Sampson, MD, is an OB/GYN at SVMC OB/GYN in Bennington.