New CDC Webpage Aims to Reduce Maternal Deaths

Diana Swift

February 07, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing new online materials in a comprehensive campaign to reduce maternal mortality and postpartum complications.

As part of the CDC's Hear Her campaign, launched last year, the webpage resources are designed to lower the United States's more than 700 annual pregnancy-related deaths, of which two-thirds could be prevented.

The United States has the highest maternal death rate of any industrialized country and is the only developed nation in which that rate is rising.

"Unfortunately, the number of deaths occurring during pregnancy around and after delivery has not improved over time," said obstetrician-gynecologist Romeo Galang, MD, MPH, acting chief medical officer and associate director for health equity in CDC's division of reproductive health in Atlanta. "But no matter when they occur, two of three are preventable."

Each year, some 50,000 mothers experience adverse pregnancy-related effects that can affect their long-term health. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately one in three maternal deaths occur within 1 week to 1 year of delivery.

Self-harm and drug overdoses are leading causes of maternal death and non-White minority mothers are more likely than Whites to die.

Other causes are postpartum complications of hypertension, even postpartum preeclampsia, cardiovascular problems, and infectious illness, said Galang. "These are all things we may see after pregnancy and we want to monitor for them and make women aware of them."

According to the CDC, in the first week after delivery hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, and infection were leading causes of death, while cardiomyopathy was the predominant cause 1 week to 1 year after delivery.

During Maternity Care

Obstetricians, obstetric nurses, midwives, and nurse practitioners are uniquely positioned to educate pregnant and postpartum patients about recognizing urgent maternal warning signs, the CDC stated.

These harbingers of potential trouble include chronic or worsening headache, dizziness or faintness, altered vision, a fever of 100.4° F or higher, severely swollen hands or feet, thoughts of self-harming or harming the baby, and respiratory distress. Chest pain or tachycardia, a swollen abdomen, belly pain, nausea and vomiting, and extreme fatigue are also indicators of potential trouble.

Signs that occurred during pregnancy range from cessation or slowing of fetal movement to vaginal bleeding and fluid leakage.

The success of the Hear Her campaign will rely on an environment of trust, and it is important for obstetric care providers to build trust with patients at the outset of prenatal care and encourage mothers to share any concerns, the CDC stated. Ultimately, the best person to know her body is the woman herself, and her concerns should be heard and addressed.

But getting women to report symptoms may not be a given. "Many women and their family will attribute symptoms to the fact they're having or have just had a baby, and there are other factors related to individual care providers and the health care systems they practice in," Galang said.

Postpartum Care

Since pregnancy complications may affect women for as long as a year after delivery, pediatricians and pediatric nurses can be an important lifeline for mothers needing postpartum care. Infant check-ups are an opportune time for staff to ask mothers how they are feeling and listen and observe carefully to identify urgent maternal warning signs.

While physicians often feel inundated by awareness campaigns, this is one that Rachel Sinkey, MD, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and division of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, wants to see remain top of mind. "It's an excellent campaign. It's spot on," she said in an interview.

"The understanding that the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world has rightly gained a lot of media attention," she said. "The death of a mother affects the child, the family, and the entire community. Maternal death is a marker of the health of the community."

Sinkey has seen mothers die postpartum of infection and heart problems. Self-harm, psychiatric disorders, and opioid overdoses are also leading causes of maternal death in Alabama. "If we can recognize these mothers and get them into good care, we can reduce some of the overdose deaths," she said. Unfortunately, however, it's not always a simple matter of timely recognition and referral, she said. "Some patients don't have the insurance coverage they need to get access to care."

Nonobstetric Settings

Beyond the context of maternity-specific care, other medical professionals can help, the CDC said. Emergency department staff, paramedics, urgent care staff, primary care providers, and mental health professionals can all ask women about their recent pregnancy status and recognize the signs and symptoms of pregnancy-related complications. Health care professionals should specifically ask patients if they are pregnant or were pregnant in the past year, the CDC advised.

Support Materials

Campaign materials available from the website include posters, palm cards, graphics, and social media content in English and Spanish as well as other languages ranging from Arabic to Tagalog and Vietnamese. There are separate guides to help mothers recognize warning signs and comfortably raise issues with their health care providers, as well as guides for providers to ensure respectful listening followed by appropriate action and for women's partners and family members. A graphic poster, "Pregnant now or within the last year?" clearly illustrates symptoms worth discussing.

The site also connects health care professionals with clinical resources and tools from a variety of complementary stakeholder organizations.

The CDC is partnering in this effort with ACOG and many other medical organizations from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Society of Addiction Medicine to the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. The goal is to expand readiness across multiple health care settings to manage obstetric emergencies during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

ACOG's initiative is called Commitment to Action: Eliminating Preventable Maternal Mortality.

Sinkey had no competing interests with regard to her comments. Galang, as a government employee, had no conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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