Maternal health care provides an opportunity to identify and prevent health risks and related issues in women and their children. Access to this type of care before, during, and after pregnancy is essential to improving family health and quality of life — things that all women deserve.
Because a mother’s wellbeing determines the health of the next generation, health providers everywhere should make a conscious effort to educate more women about the importance of maternal health care. Moreover, they should consistently seek to provide the highest quality care and improve access to maternal services.
Here are a few more reasons why maternal health care matters — to both mothers and their families.
Depression and Anxiety
It’s common for women to experience anxiety or sadness after giving birth. However, as many as one in seven of them experience much more serious psychological disorders, including postpartum depression and anxiety. Mothers can develop these conditions before and after childbirth and last for weeks, months, or even years. Without treatment, PPD and PPA can significantly affect the relationship between mom and baby and even cause some mothers to take their own life out of despair.
Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of women who screen positive for PPD receive mental health services for the following six months when symptoms can be most debilitating. However, if mothers had more access to these and other similar services, they could get the treatment they so desperately need.
Substance Use and Obesity
Women living in impoverished or rural areas are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as cigarette smoking and substance use. Moreover, they’re less likely to engage in or have access to maternal health care. Sadly, many of these women will be unable to overcome addiction or provide adequate prenatal care, which can ultimately result in birth defects and serious health issues for both mother and baby.
These same women are also at a higher risk for obesity, which can increase their risk for maternal death. In fact, being severely obese can more than triple their risk of death. Having a higher body mass index can also affect unborn babies and increase their risk for various health problems including birth defects, impaired growth, asthma, obesity and fetal macrosomia.
If these women were to have access to maternal health care, they may realize these risks sooner and focus on losing weight throughout their pregnancy.
Maternal Mortality Rates
Most cases of maternal death are preventable. However, the number of deaths has been increasing in the United States and, now, the nation has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. While many factors contribute to this dilemma, too few maternity care providers and a lack of comprehensive postpartum support are much to blame. Among black populations, mothers are three to four times more likely than white women to die within one year of giving birth because of these insufficiencies.
Policy changes that provide more comprehensive health care services — including access to mental health treatments — could potentially reduce the maternal mortality rate. However, the U.S. must also raise up more midwives and obstetrician-gynecologists to provide sufficient care. Currently, there is an overall shortage of these providers relative to births.
Early Elective Deliveries
Many mothers in the U.S. and elsewhere have begun to voluntarily choose early elective deliveries. However, EEDs can pose risks to mothers and their babies including anemia, infection, NICU admission, respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, and feeding problems. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended against early induction and cesarean section before 39 weeks, but these practices are still common in hospitals today.
Luckily, health systems are actively working to reduce overall EED rate by instituting hard stop policies. In Tennessee, these efforts resulted in a 10% to 15% drop in NICU admissions. Elsewhere, education, data feedback and care guidelines are effectively reducing the prevalence of EEDs and excessive cesarean sections, which promotes the health of mothers and their children.
Access to Contraceptives
Access to contraceptives and various forms of birth control — including sexual education — also falls under the umbrella of maternal health care. Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned and these instances are associated with an increased risk of problems for mom and baby. For instance, if the mother was unaware that she was pregnant, she might continue to abuse drugs and alcohol or fail to take prenatal vitamins until the fetus has already developed for several months.
Therefore, it’s important that women everywhere have access to education regarding sexual health and pregnancy and may receive contraceptives if they so choose. Of course, this level of maternal health care is still difficult to ensure in developing countries. However, many nonprofit organizations and healthcare providers are actively working to educate women and provide them with safe and effective birth control to promote overall health and quality of life.
Making Motherhood a Positive Experience
Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood should be positive experiences for mothers everywhere. Luckily, access to maternal health care can promote a more optimistic outlook and ensure women and their babies reach their fullest potential. However, it’s up to policymakers and health care providers to create a clinically and psychologically safe environment for mothers everywhere.
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