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Insufficient education could be to blame for rising maternal death rates

Labor complications continue to cause serious - sometimes fatal - injury to new moms.

A recent study published in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing revealed huge gaps in the knowledge provided to new moms about potential post-delivery complications. These complications, sometimes brought on by high blood pressure, reactions to anesthesia, blood clots or heavy bleeding, can result in serious injury to a new mom. She could even lose her life.

In spite of the high risks, and the fact that America is currently one of the only developed nations around the world with a still-rising maternal death rate (U.S. moms are three times as likely to die in childbirth than British ones, and six times as likely as Scandinavians), the risks to new moms still remain a taboo subject. We are also the only country where new moms typically don't see their own physician until four-to-six weeks after delivery, and that key timeframe is when the majority of complications arise.

A survey of labor and delivery nurses from around the country shows that few - if any - of them regularly take the time to educate mothers about the signs of potentially life-threatening complications. Instead, nurses spend the majority of their time either providing information about how to care for the infant him or herself, or simply monitoring the myriad moms and babies in their charge for immediate medical concerns.

Reasons why

The researchers found a general lack of knowledge in many nurses and delivery room staffers regarding the likelihood of complications and the warning signs. Without such knowledge, they cannot educate their patients about indicators that there are problems.

In other instances, a lack of knowledge was not the main reason why complications weren't discussed. Some nurses believe deeply that the delivery room is a happy, hopeful place. They are reluctant to "spoil" the sanctity of that environment with discussions about life-threatening complications like:

  • Unchecked edema/swelling: all new moms retain water, particularly if pitocin or pain medications were given. Extreme edema, however, can indicate a much larger problem, like dangerously high blood pressure or even congestive heart failure.
  • Heavy blood loss: it is normal for every mom to bleed some during and after delivery, even with a C-section. What isn't normal is for heavy blood flow to last days or weeks afterwards; this could indicate an unrecognized uterine tear or other internal injury that needs immediate attention.
  • Headaches: epidurals come with a high risk of developing spinal headaches. These result when a leak of spinal fluid into the membrane surrounding the spinal cord increases pressure throughout the nervous system. They are blindingly painful, often come with nausea or light sensitivity, and may not resolve without treatment.
  • Breathing difficulties: some new moms experience labored breathing for a time during recovery from childbirth. Some shortness of breath is relatively normal, but extended difficulties could indicate larger problems like lung damage, reactions to medications, heart damage, shock or other serious conditions.

Only with proper education can new moms understand their risks for complications and recognize the warning signs if issues arise. Failure to offer that all-important knowledge could lead to mom or baby suffering irreparable harm. If you, your child's mother or your baby suffered injury during or after birth, you may be able to bring a legal claim for medical malpractice. Contact one of the skilled and caring attorneys at the New York City law offices of Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff LLP to learn more.