Scholarly Study Finds a Possible Contributing Factor to the High Maternal Mortality Rate in the United States

The maternal mortality rate in the United States is among the highest in the developed world. A new study by scholars at Rutgers University-Camden, the University of Maryland, and the Association of Women’s Health, offers evidence that may explain to some degree why the maternal mortality rate is so high.

Researchers surveyed a large group of postpartum nurses in hospitals across the country. All respondents were members of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses. The researchers found that many of these nurses were not properly informed of the dangers mother face after giving birth. The survey found that typically nurses spend only 10 minutes or less discussing potential complications with new mothers before they leave the hospital. The authors discovered that nurses spent most of their time educating moms about how to care for their new babies, not themselves. The information mothers did receive about their own health risks was wildly inconsistent and sometimes incorrect, according to the study.

Debra Bingham, director of the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement, associate professor of nursing at the University of Maryland, and a co-author of the study, noted that many nurses were uncomfortable discussing the possibility that complications could be life-threatening. “We had some nurses come out and say, ‘Well you know what, I don’t want to scare the woman. This is supposed to be a happy time. I don’t want to seem like all I want to talk about is death,'” Dr. Bingham said.

The researchers also found that the problem could be corrected by giving postpartum nurses a checklist to follow to educate their patients about the possible warning signs of complications. “Very quickly, we started hearing from the nurses that women were coming back to the hospital with the handout, saying, ‘I have this symptom,'” Dr. Bingham said.

Dr. Bingham holds a master’s degree in perinatal nursing from Columbia University and a doctorate in public health from the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill.

The full study, “Nurses’ Knowledge and Teaching of Possible Postpartum Complications,” was published in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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