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Don’t count on nurses to warn you of postpartum risks

You’re more likely to suffer potentially fatal complications in the days and weeks after giving birth than at any time during your pregnancy, yet many nurses may not know to alert new moms about potential risks.

A recent study published in MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing surveyed almost 400 postpartum nurses and found many lacked knowledge about maternal death risks. They also spent very little time – usually less than 10 minutes – talking to new moms about warning signs of potential problems.

Deaths during pregnancy and during or after childbirth are very rare. Even so, the U.S. has a shamefully high maternal mortality rate compared to the rest of the developed world. In 2015, about 24 women died for every 100,000 live births in America, compared to 9 or fewer women per 100,000 live births in European countries, Canada and Australia. Many maternal deaths in the U.S. may be preventable, recent articles by NPR and ProPublica report.


The most common cause of pregnancy-related death is heart conditions. Other problems include infections, bleeding, blood clots and high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While some women are at higher risk than others for complications, problems can happen to anyone.

Luckily, you can help safeguard your own post-birth health by studying this educational page and checklist developed by an expert panel. The list offers the following advice on warning signs to look out for during the first year after you give birth.

Call 911 if you have:

• Pain in chest

• Difficulty breathing

• Seizures

• Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby

Call your healthcare provider (or if you can’t reach your provider call 911 or go to the emergency room) if you experience:

• Bleeding that soaks through one pad an hour, or blood clots the size of an egg or bigger

• An incision that isn’t healing

• A red or swollen leg that is painful or warm to touch

• Temperature of 100.4 F or higher

• Headache that doesn’t respond to medication, or a bad headache with vision changes.

Should this happen to you, always tell 911 or the healthcare provider that you recently had a baby.

Have you received advice about pregnancy and/or postpartum health and problems to look out for? Do you think healthcare providers are doing enough to safeguard maternal health?

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