Efforts aim to improve health of Kansas moms, babies

Published: Dec. 18, 2019 at 3:19 PM CST
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Having a baby is supposed to be a happy time, but it's also a riskier time in the United States than any other developed nation. The Centers for Disease Control reports the maternal mortality is actually going up.

Dr. Pam Grant of Stormont Vail Maternal Fetal Medicine in Topeka says too many women die in childbirth.

"Our maternal mortality rate is appalling for a country that spends as much money on health care as we do," she said.

CDC numbers shows the U.S. maternal mortality rate rose from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000, to 23.8 deaths in 2014. The U.S. was the only developed country in the world with an increase.

Pre-term births also have risen for four straight years. According to the March of Dimes, 10 percent of babies born in 2018 arrived early.

Dr. Grant says part of the reason is the changing face of America's moms.

"Our moms are older. Our moms are more likely to be overweight. Our moms are more likely to come into pregnancy with risk factors that increase the chances for developing complications," she said.

Even with the risks, an estimated 20 to 50 percent of maternal deaths are preventable. Dr. Grant says the first step is overcoming the bias that pregnancy is a natural process.

"While we have protocols and criteria if a man presents to the emergency room with chest pain - he has to be seen in so much time, diagnostic testing and treatment has to occur - no such protocols exist for a pregnant woman who presents with any signs or symptoms concerning for development of a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy, or obstetric hemorrhage," she said.


gave the U.S. an overall "C" grade for maternal and infant health. Kansas earned a "C+".

Health officials have efforts underway to improve that. For example, Stormont Vail hosts emergency simulation training for labor and delivery nurses from around the region; the Healthy Baby Initiative encourages access to prenatal care and breastfeeding support; and many providers have stepped up education on warning signs.

"(Women can watch for) sudden, unusual shortness of breath; chest pain' they feel their heart's beating erratically; sudden spots before their eyes or floaters; they have severe abdominal pain; the baby's not moving right; even if they just feel weird," Dr. Grant said. "Our goal is to be more preventive and to catch complications at the earliest stages possible, before anyone is at risk."

Dr. Grant says healthy pregnancies begin before conception. She says women should try to get to as healthy a weight as possible, take a multivitamin with folic acid, and make sure blood pressure and diabetes are under control.

Prenatal care also is essential. People who are uninsured or under-insured should check with Grace Med (in Topeka), or their local health department to see what resources they have to help.