In a grim new set of maternal health statistics, an on-going study from the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative has found the number of women who died in the state after giving birth nearly tripled over the past decade, rising from approximately six deaths per 100,000 in 1996 to almost 17 per 100,000 in 2006. An ABC News report on the study from March 4, 2010, revealed that maternal death rates in California are now 4.5 times higher than the federal government's Healthy People 2010 benchmark—and also mirror troubling nationwide trends.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the US ranks behind more than 40 other countries when it comes to maternal death rates, with 11 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies (when measured in 2005). As ABC News points out, though still very rare, more women die in the US after giving birth than die in many countries including Poland, Croatia, Italy, and Canada.
Researchers are still trying to pinpoint what's behind this startling increase. It could just be a matter of better tracking of maternal health, but such factors as higher rates of elective Cesarean births and obesity during pregnancy may each play a significant role. "Most women died from hemorrhage, from deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, and from— this is the surprise—from underlying cardiac disease," notes Dr. Elliott Main, chairman of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative in an interview with ABC.
Studies have repeatedly shown a higher rate of mortality in mothers who have a Cesarean delivery, especially those who have multiple C-sections. "If the risks of a Cesarean birth are small, they're magnified greatly when you add many more Cesarean births...," says Dr. Main. Women recovering from a C-section are at increased risk for blood clots and DVT (deep vein thrombosis), more so when moms are obese or have a family history of blood clots. Obese women are also more likely to have underlying heart conditions that up risk for serious health complications after birth. Researchers note that easy measures such as wearing leg compression cuffs when recovering from a C-section may work to dramatically lower blood clot risk for all women.