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Safeguarding a mother's health during and after childbirth

For many years now, hospitals and public health experts have focused attention on the problem of infant mortality. Infant mortality is often used as a benchmark for the quality of health care provided by a hospital, across a state or throughout a nation. Decades of effort have led to significant progress in the area of infant mortality. The U.S. currently enjoys its lowest rate on record. All the effort to protect and nurture infants through childbirth should not have come at the expense of the mothers delivering them, but there is troubling evidence that it has.

Maternal mortality is far higher in the United States than in Canada, Great Britain and many other developed countries. At a time when maternal mortality rates are dropping in most developed nations, the rate in the U.S. is rising. While there are demographic factors at play, including the increasing age of many new mothers in the U.S., the medical system is to blame for many tragic outcomes. Everything from an extreme and unwarranted emphasis on C-sections to a lack of training in maternal care among ob/gyn doctors has contributed to worsening outcomes for women giving birth.

Access to specialists

When a baby shows signs of distress during or after birth, it is common for one or more specialists to be called immediately. Babies are closely monitored and signs of trouble are identified quickly. The same is not always true for mothers.

Ignoring symptoms

The signs of maternal distress are often dismissed as part of the birth process. Nausea, headache, vomiting and pain, even extreme pain, may be ignored by physicians more focused on the labor than the health of mother. Symptoms that indicate serious complications such as hemorrhaging or preeclampsia are ignored until it is too late. In this way, otherwise treatable conditions lead to serious damage, even death.

Hidden mistakes

As is often the case in situations of medical malpractice, it is difficult for victims and their families to determine what went wrong. Doctors are rarely forthcoming about errors and hospitals are not known for their willingness to acknowledge when their practices are insufficient. When a mother dies during childbirth, there is every likelihood that medical malpractice played a role. While hospitals should be eager to investigate these incidents and correct the errors that led to tragedy, the truth is that lawsuits are often necessary to inspire action. Whatever it takes, it is clear that the health care system in the U.S. needs to do more to protect and promote maternal health.

 

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