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Childbirth Complications Rose Sharply Over Past Decade

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study showing a significant rise in the number of emergencies during delivery and severe complications in the days after delivery from 1999 to 2009. Life-threatening complications during delivery rose 75 percent while severe post-delivery complications more than doubled. The lead author of the study referred to the results as a "clarion call" for medical professionals to address maternal complications.

Several factors were raised as possible explanations for the rise in serious complications. An increase in the number of older women having children may explain some of the increase. In addition, more women with other health conditions, including obesity, kidney disease and diabetes may be having children now. Existing health conditions do not explain every complication, however, and many healthy women are suffering severe complications during childbirth.

There has been a 60 percent increase in the rate of Caesarean section deliveries since 1996. This form of delivery may be contributing to one of the complications, known as placenta accrete. In these cases, the placenta grows into the uterine wall through the surgical scar. This can lead to severe hemorrhage after delivery. Given the increasing number of such emergencies, hospitals need to establish guidelines for how to prevent and deal with maternal complications to keep women healthy.

Many of the safety initiatives targeting the field of obstetrics have focused on infant care. The health issues that impact mothers have only recently begun to draw greater attention. This study indicates that more work needs to be done to combat the common causes of injury and death to mothers in delivering their babies.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Steep Rise of Complications in Childbirth Spurs Action," 10 December 2012

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