CHICAGO MATERNAL DEATH LAWYER
Chicago Maternal Death Attorney
Over the last few centuries, the global maternal mortality rate has dramatically decreased. Our global health system has poured millions of dollars into preventing maternal mortality through reproductive health education, quality medical care, optimal nutrition, infection control, and so much more. Even still, maternal death during childbirth and pregnancy is a major problem in modern times, with the number of maternal deaths in the U.S. steadily increasing over the last 5 years. Tragically, maternal mortality rates are even worse in poorer countries, due to the lack of high quality maternal health care.
When examining maternal mortality data in a high income country like the U.S., you must ask: why is this still happening? Well, there are countless reasons why our maternal mortality rate is on the rise, and why efforts to reduce maternal mortality have been put on the back burner. One obvious answer is the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in fatal pregnancy complications in some cases. In other cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented young mothers from receiving the health care that they need in order to have a healthy pregnancy and a smooth birth. That’s because COVID has put an immense strain on the entire health system, resulting in understaffing, more medical errors, fewer pregnancy checkups, and less medical resources when serious complications do arise.
Below, our legal team breaks down the current maternal mortality rate in the U.S., how women commonly die during pregnancy and birth, and whether or not you can sue for a maternal death.
If your loved one suffered a pregnancy or birth-related death due to medical malpractice, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to recover damages. Chicago wrongful death lawyers at Curcio Law Offices have decades of combined experience in helping clients obtain fair settlements and justice for their suffering. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers can do the same for you too. Call 312-321-1111 to schedule a free consultation at our law firm today.
What is Maternal Death?
There are many different definitions of maternal death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a maternal death is defined as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) extended the definition to include postpartum deaths up to 1 year after pregnancy ends.
There are also two main types of maternal deaths, and they are direct obstetric deaths and indirect obstetric deaths. Direct obstetric deaths are caused by complications related to pregnancy, child birth, abortion, or the management of these conditions. On the other hand, indirect obstetric deaths are those caused by preexisting health conditions that are made worse by pregnancy, child birth, or abortion. These deaths are often deemed “incidental” or “accidental.”
How Many Women Die During Childbirth in the U.S.?
Over the past several centuries, the global maternal mortality rate has decreased dramatically due to improved prenatal care and other public health efforts. With that being said, birth and pregnancy related deaths still occur every day across the globe.
The number of maternal deaths in the United States specifically has been on the rise over the past few years. In fact, the maternal mortality ratio in the U.S. has nearly doubled between the years of 2018 and 2021, although a partial explanation for this is that the birth rate has slowly declined between these years.
According to maternal mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Vital Statistics System, there were 3,791,712 births and 658 maternal deaths in 2018. This makes the maternal mortality ratio for that year 17.4 per 100,000 live births. In 2021, there were 3,664,292 births and 1,205 maternal deaths. This makes the maternal mortality ratio for that year 32.9 per 100,000 live births. Many health care professionals believe that the recent rise in mortality rates in the U.S. is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some women suffered major pregnancy complications related to the virus while others had lower quality prenatal care due to the virus’ strain on the health care system as a whole.
The maternal mortality risk in the U.S. varies greatly depending on race and reproductive age. For example, the maternal mortality ratio for white women over 40 years old was 138.5 per 100,000 live births in 2021. Comparatively, the maternal mortality ratio for non-Hispanic black women over 40 years old was 300.8 per 100,000 live births in 2021. Generally, being pregnant and giving birth in the U.S. is far more life-threatening for black and Hispanic women (of any age) compared to white women. This is often due to the fact that racial minorities have less money, less access to quality health services, and less access to quality health insurance in the U.S. compared to white people.
Which Country Has the Highest Maternal Death Rate?
It’s no surprise that low income countries have much higher maternal mortality rates than high income countries. Thousands of maternal deaths occur for a variety of reasons in these countries, including lack of education about reproductive health, poor maternal health services, poor hygiene and nutrition, lack of safe abortion services, and more.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 287,000 pregnant and birthing people across the globe died in 2020. The vast majority (202,000) of these deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region with the second highest maternal mortality ratio in 2020 was South Asia, with 47,000 maternal deaths.
A partial explanation for why countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the highest maternal mortality ratio is because these regions often have higher birth rates than most other regions. But it’s also because these regions contain low income countries with poor health care services.
But – back to the main question – which countries in the world have the highest number of maternal deaths? According to the same data source linked above, these 5 countries had the most maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020:
- Democratic Republic of Congo
History of Maternal Death During Childbirth
Up until modern medicine and technology came around, nearly every country had high maternal mortality rates, with maternal deaths occurring almost every 100th to 200th birth. It’s important to note that before the modern era, most pregnant and birthing people had an average of 7 children because not only were maternal deaths high at the time, but so were child deaths. So women would have upwards of 7 children in hopes that 2 or 3 of them would survive past the age of 5 years old. Now, most women have an average of 2 children, both of which have a high probability of surviving childhood. This is a partial reason why global maternal deaths are much lower now than they used to be.
The biggest reason why the number of maternal deaths has steadily decreased over the last few centuries is because our health system has found ways to decrease preventable maternal mortality on a global scale. Preventable maternal mortality refers to maternal deaths occurring due to pregnancy complications, birthing complications, unsafe abortion, and postpartum mental health conditions. In order to prevent maternal death, most countries now provide high quality maternal health services, including family planning services, reproductive health education, prenatal care, postpartum mental health care, and more. Additionally, nutrition and infection control is much better than it used to be even a century ago, which has also played a huge role in reducing maternal mortality across the globe.
Common Causes of Maternal Death During Childbirth
When measuring maternal mortality, it’s crucial to look at why maternal deaths occur in the first place so that we can make more strides in saving lives.
In the last several years, maternal deaths occurred in the U.S. due to the following reasons:
- Preeclampsia is a dangerous health condition characterized by extremely high blood pressure and excessive protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy. If this condition goes untreated, both the mother and baby can suffer life-threatening health complications, and even death. In severe cases, pregnant women can experience organ failure.
- Gestational Diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Pregnant women must be tested for gestational diabetes during their second trimester so that doctors can help the woman manage it through diet, exercise, and other medical intervention. Unmanaged gestational diabetes can result in complications such as preeclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage during birth, both of which can be fatal.
- Placenta Previa is a pregnancy complication in which the placenta sits much lower than normal in the uterus. As a result, the placenta covers a large portion of the cervical opening at the top of the vagina. During the last trimester of pregnancy and during birth, women with placenta previa often experience severe bleeding. Placenta previa can become life-threatening without proper health care. It is one of the valid reasons for an emergency C-section. Usually, a blood transfusion and an emergency C-section is the best treatment.
- Uterine Rupture is rare, but can happen in women who attempt a vaginal birth after having a previous C-section. We’re often asked, “Can a car accident cause a miscarriage?” Yes, this can also happen to pregnant women who have experienced major physical trauma, such as a car accident.A uterine rupture occurs when the wall of the uterus tears open. Both mother and baby can suffer life-threatening complications and death without immediate medical intervention.
- Placental Abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before birth. Again, without immediate medical intervention, this pregnancy complication can be fatal to both mother and baby.
- Cardiac Issues such as heart disease are also common causes of maternal deaths. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic states that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of pregnancy complications in the U.S. If the mother has pre-existing cardiac issues prior to pregnancy and birth, she is at a higher risk of suffering fatal health complications. But women who have no prior history of cardiac issues can also suffer from complications. That’s because pregnancy and birth puts a massive strain on the entire body, including the heart and circulatory system. During pregnancy, overall blood volume nearly doubles. This means increased heart rate and increased cardiac output. Without proper medical care, cardiac issues during pregnancy can go unnoticed and untreated, resulting in death.
- Infections that go untreated during or after birth that lead to the three stages of sepsis. Untreated and unmanaged sepsis can also be fatal for new mothers.
- Postpartum Hemorrhaging: Birth is a beautiful thing, but it’s also very violent on a woman’s body. Some women may experience severe bleeding after a vaginal birth or a C-section. Doctors must act quickly to stop the bleeding and restore the woman’s blood volume.
- C-Section Errors: Surgeons still make mistakes despite years of professional medical training. These mistakes can happen during emergency C-sections when all healthcare providers must act fast to save the mother and the baby. C-section errors can result in life-threatening complications, including severe bleeding and infections, both of which can be fatal.
Can You Sue for Maternal Death During Childbirth?
Yes, you can sue for maternal death during childbirth if your loved one’s death was caused by medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when health care providers commit negligent actions or inactions that result in serious injury, illness, or death of their patients. If your loved one died during pregnancy or birth due to the following examples of medical malpractice, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- The doctor failed to diagnose, monitor, or treat the pregnant woman for cardiac issues, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, placenta previa, uterine rupture, placental abruption, or postpartum hemorrhaging and she died as a result.
- A surgeon makes an error during a C-section, resulting in maternal death.
- The hospital or medical team gave the pregnant woman an infection during the birthing process, and they failed to treat it in a timely manner, resulting in maternal death.
If your loved one suffered life-threatening pregnancy complications and/or death due to medical malpractice, you have grounds to contact the legal team at Curcio Law Offices.
Damages for Maternal Death During Childbirth
Surviving family members of those who suffer death during pregnancy or birth may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to recover damages. Chicago wrongful death lawyers at Curcio Law Offices can help your family recover financial compensation for the following types of damages:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages and loss of financial support from the deceased mother
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Child care costs (if the baby survives)