NPR reports that 700 to 900 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth in the United States. Over half of these deaths are preventable, but a recent study found that even obstetric nurses were ill-informed of the risks and warning signs that mothers should be aware of after childbirth. More than 80 percent of obstetric nurses were unaware that most maternal deaths occur at home after the baby is born. But there is hope. Researchers found that shortcomings in medical knowledge could be overcome with simple education programs employed by hospitals for the nursing staff. They also found that sending new mothers home with a handout describing warning signs empowered new mothers to come back in for treatment before it was too late.
The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses handout promotes awareness of postpartum health risks for new mothers and is available at Health4Mom.org. For some symptoms, women are encouraged to contact their medical provider. These symptoms include excessive bleeding, C-section or other incisions that are not healing, one leg becoming red and swollen, fevers or persistent headaches. For other symptoms, women should call 911. These include shortness of breath, chest pains, seizures and thoughts of self-harm or of hurting the baby. Caregivers, new mothers and loved ones who stay on the lookout for these symptoms can help avert tragedy.