The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among affluent countries. Between 700 and 900 women die every year because of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Nearly 65,000 women nearly die. Maternal mortality rates are highest among black women and women in rural areas. Contrary to what many people think, maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are actually increasing, not decreasing as one might expect. A new study indicates that many nurses caring for new mothers don’t know that, and are unaware of many of the health risks new mothers face after having children.

Many nurses are not telling women about postpartum complications.

According to NPR, a study surveyed 372 professional postpartum nurses around the country. It found that many nurses don’t know about postpartum health risks and are not adequately educating their patients about them.

Because of that, many nurses are not telling mothers about postpartum risks and symptoms. Symptoms like painful swelling, headaches, heavy bleeding, and breathing problems can indicate potentially life-threatening conditions. Catching those can save lives. New mothers need to be told what to keep an eye out for, and what is not a normal part of recovery.

Nurses are more likely to spend the postpartum hospital time telling new parents how to take care of babies. That’s important, but they also need to know how to take care of themselves.

It’s a big problem. And these nurses were not unqualified. All the surveyed nurses were members of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses. That’s the leading professional organization for nurses who care for mothers and babies.

More than a third of surveyed nurses had masters’ degrees or doctoral degrees.

A lot of the nurses reported that they specifically didn’t talk to new mothers about complications or postpartum mortality, because they didn’t want to freak them. Wanting to make sure new mothers have a joyful time is admirable, but women need to know these things.

Fixing the problem is relatively simple.

It looks like this is actually very easy to counter, though. Nurses are educated professionals who want to do their jobs as well as possible. Filling in gaps in knowledge and training is a relatively quick process.

In fact, researchers tested out a script and checklist for nurses to use when educating new mothers. The mothers were given a page of warning signs to keep an eye out for when they went home. Those materials were used at four hospitals, and nurses there noticed a marked difference in the number of people calling in to check on symptoms.

At least one woman came back having caught a potentially life-threatening blood clot before it did any damage, thanks to the handout.

The CDC estimates that 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable. Educating caregivers and new mothers about postpartum health risks could go a long way to preventing unnecessary death.

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(Image: iStockPhoto / monkeybusinessimages)