Spotlight on Maternal Illness
Most mothers anticipate the birth of a baby with excitement and joy — and have a safe, problem-free delivery. However, each year approximately 50,000 American women experience pregnancy complications — from hypertension to sepsis to hemorrhaging — that put mother and baby at risk for serious illness and even death. These potentially life-threatening symptoms, known as “severe maternal morbidity,” are on the rise in the U.S.
With an eye on reducing the number of women who become severely ill during pregnancy and managing the risks associated with these illnesses, Sarah Kilpatrick, MD, PhD — chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai and the Helping Hand of Los Angeles Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology — led a study to determine the risk factors associated with women suffering from the most severe maternal illnesses, such as hemorrhage or severe hypertension. Her team sought to determine the relationship of this morbidity to preterm births using a more standardized approach than used in prior studies.
“Previous research had shown a correlation between severe maternal morbidity and preterm birth,” Kilpatrick says, “but I did not expect to see 41 percent of these mothers deliver early. This was a surprising result.”
Furthermore, the study showed that, of the women who experienced placental hemorrhaging, 63 percent had previously given birth via cesarean and had a higher rate of placental abnormality, suggesting that placental hemorrhage is strongly correlated with early births.
“One takeaway from this research is that it is really important to avoid unnecessary cesarean delivery,” Kilpatrick says. “If we can reduce unwarranted C-sections, we may reduce placental abnormality and preterm births.”
She adds that, given the association between severe illness during pregnancy and preterm births, hospital care is vital for every symptomatic mother. That way, both her condition and the health of her premature baby can be effectively managed.
Results of this study will be used to better manage prenatal care, such as early development of birth plans designed to minimize risks to the mother, and implementation of specialized teams experienced in deliveries with these complications.