The Ultimate Guide to Maternal Health

During pregnancy and after childbirth, women encounter several types of technologies, processes, and health practitioner services. For example, a pharmacist can help a woman purchase a pregnancy test, ultrasound technicians can show an expectant mother the first image of her baby, and medical specialists can treat a newborn’s health condition. The importance and necessity of strong maternal health cannot be understated. Not all women, though, are aware of certain health afflictions or have access to the services they need before and after pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of hypertensive disorders and postpartum hemorrhages per 10,000 deliveries have increased over the past two decades. As for the decision to have a child, finances can play a major role: a study published in BMC Women’s Health noted that 40 percent of respondents who had received abortions said that finances had been a reason for seeking the procedure. In the United States, the average cost of delivering a baby, without complications, is $10,808, according to Business Insider. Women can face multiple health conditions and challenges before, during, and after pregnancy that can affect them and their children’s lives. It is crucial that women understand the potential procedures, complications, benefits, and obstacles pertaining to maternal health.

Maternal Health: Facts and Figures 

Maternal health is a large field that involves numerous doctors, technicians, and health officials. It’s important to understand the full scope of how maternal health takes shape across the country.

Health Statistics Regarding Pregnancy

Opioid use can lead to preterm birth and stillbirth, tobacco use can damage a baby’s lungs and brain, and alcohol use can severely impact a child’s health at any point during pregnancy.

In a research study, 23 percent of women with postnatal depression had first experienced the disorder during pregnancy. Other health conditions women can face during pregnancy include anxiety; eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa; and miscarriage.

Tokophobia is the fear of pregnancy and giving birth. According to a study in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, “Over 20 percent of pregnant women report fear, and 6 percent describe a fear that is disabling.”

Maternal Health Issues in the United States

In the United States, one in six of the women between the ages of 15 and 19 who gave birth in 2017 had previously given birth.

  • Women in different states express different levels of certainty as to whether they want to carry a baby to full term. [Guttmacher Institute]

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the proportion of pregnancies for women who “had not been sure of their pregnancy desires before becoming pregnant” was higher in New Mexico, Georgia, and Missouri, for example, than in other parts of the country.

Maternal Health Issues Abroad 

  • Over 800 women die across the world every day as a result of preventable pregnancy- and birth-related causes. [World Health Organization]

Of those deaths, 99 percent occur in developing countries.

Additionally, 2.5 million girls under the age of 16 give birth in these regions.

Complications during pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death globally for 15-to-19-year-old mothers. The World Health Organization (WHO) also notes that mothers aged 10 to 19 “face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years.”

Maternal Health Issues after Pregnancy

Postpartum depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy.

In a national survey, four out of 10 mothers who had given birth vaginally experienced perineum pain, while six out of 10 women who had received a C-section “considered pain at the site of the incision to have been a problem” after birth.

Maternal Health Conditions and Treatments

Maternal health conditions can afflict a woman during her pregnancy and after she’s given birth. It’s important that current moms, soon-to-be mothers, and their families be aware of the potential illnesses and maternal health risks.

During Pregnancy

There are numerous health conditions that women potentially face during pregnancy. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development lists iron deficiency anemia, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, infections, hyperemesis gravidarum (severe nausea and vomiting), and placental abruption among the health ailments some pregnant women experience, in addition to previously mentioned conditions, such as miscarriage, preterm labor, and depression and anxiety. Additionally, the Office on Women’s Health provides a helpful list of symptoms and prevention/treatment options for different types of infections that a woman can get during pregnancy. The site also notes specific health situations in which a pregnant woman should contact her midwife or doctor, including vaginal bleeding, discomfort or pain in the lower abdomen, and suspicions that a baby is moving less than normal.

After Pregnancy 

Both a woman and her newborn baby require attentive care after childbirth. Counselling for Maternal and Newborn Health Care: A Handbook for Building Skills notes several issues and health concerns for women who have given birth, including the importance of having someone nearby for the first day after childbirth, ensuring that a woman and her child are receiving proper nutrition and maintaining proper personal hygiene, and knowing the signs for potentially dangerous conditions such as postpartum depression. According to the handbook, women should know the following signs of postpartum depression:

  • Persistent sad or anxious mood, irritability
  • Low interest in or pleasure from activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Difficulties carrying out usual work, school, domestic, or social activities
  • Negative or hopeless feelings about herself or her newborn
  • Multiple symptoms (aches, pains, palpitations, numbness) with no clear physical cause

Maternal Health Tips and Resources

 There are several health tips and resources for new mothers, as well as their friends and family members.

Making Relationships with New Moms 

Even though friends and family members can lend valuable support to loved ones after they’ve given birth, it can also be beneficial for new moms to branch out and form relationships with other new moms. In The New York Times, novelist J. Courtney Sullivan discusses the value of these new relationships: “You need people who are in the trenches with you because you forget so fast what babies are like.”

“I trust these women more than anyone,” Sullivan writes. “We take advice from each other before doctors or parenting books. We often make different decisions for our children, and yet there is never a hint of judgment.”

Facing Emotional Challenges

 In addition to being aware of the potential threat and effects of postpartum depression, mothers should understand they may also face their own unique emotional challenges after giving birth. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, “Counseling interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, are effective in preventing perinatal depression in women at increased risk.” Additionally, counseling and psychotherapy can be very beneficial to women both during and after pregnancy. In The Washington Post, California State University psychology professor Ramani Durvasula says, “There are few times in life when psychotherapy is more useful than during pregnancy.” And, as clinical psychologist Jessica Zucker points out in the same article, “because you’re embarking on creating part of the next generation, it’s such an opportune time to look back at your own history.”

Financial Resources

For many moms, one of the most challenging aspects of treating maternal health conditions is finding the money to pay for them. Benefits.gov lists different state benefit programs that can potentially help out new mothers and their families who are struggling financially, and ChildCare.gov provides a list of financial assistance programs specifically for families.

Sources

Benefits.gov
“Financial Assistance”
BMC Women’s Health
“Understanding Why Women Seek Abortions in the U.S.”
Business Insider
“How Much It Costs to Have a Baby in Every State
Whether You Have Health Insurance or Don’t”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Data on Selected Pregnancy Complications in the United States”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Substance Use During Pregnancy”

Childbirth Connection
“Listening to Mothers III Pregnancy and Birth”

Childcare.gov
“Financial Assistance for Families”

Counseling for Maternal and Newborn Health Care: A Handbook for Building SkillsEunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
 “What Health Problems Can Develop During Pregnancy?”
Postgraduate Medical Journal
“Fear of Pregnancy and Childbirth”

Guttmacher Institute
“Pregnancy Desires and Pregnancies at the State Level: Estimates for 2014”

The New York Times
“The Absolute Necessity of the New-Mom Friend”

Office on Women’s Health
“Pregnancy Complications”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
“Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing”

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
“Perinatal Depression: Preventive Interventions”

Washington Post
“Why Therapy During Pregnancy Should Be Required”
World Health Organization
“Adolescent Pregnancy”

World Health Organization
“Maternal Health”