When Pregnant and Postpartum People Speak, We Should All Listen

Posted: October 07, 2022 | Word Count: 445

By Wanda Barfield, MD, MPH, RADM USPHS
Director of the Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Too many people die from pregnancy-related complications each year. And in most cases, those deaths are preventable.

Every pregnancy is different and while some symptoms may seem normal, it’s always important to discuss concerns with a healthcare provider.

CDC launched the Hear Her campaign to raise awareness of urgent maternal warning signs to look out for during and in the year after pregnancy. The campaign includes powerful stories shared by people who experienced severe pregnancy-related complications. Hear Her encourages partners, friends, family, healthcare providers, and anyone who supports a pregnant or postpartum person during or after pregnancy to listen to their concerns. Acting quickly could help save their life.

One such powerful story is told by Lindsay, a mother of four, who developed preeclampsia during her second pregnancy. In response to her symptoms, she was told that she was experiencing typical pregnancy swelling. But when her headache and blurred vision got worse, she checked her blood pressure at a pharmacy and discovered it was dangerously high. Lindsay made the decision to go straight to the hospital, which may have saved her life.

Everyone has an important role to play in helping prevent pregnancy-related deaths.

  • Pregnant and postpartum people and their friends and family can know and communicate the urgent maternal warning signs. Communicate recent pregnancy history any time they receive medical care in the year after delivery.
  • Healthcare professionals can help patients manage chronic conditions and have ongoing conversations about the warning signs of complications. They can listen to patients and make sure concerns are adequately addressed.
  • Hospitals and health systems can play an important coordination role, encouraging cross-communication and collaboration among healthcare providers. They can also work to improve delivery of quality care before, during, and after pregnancy and standardize approaches for responding to obstetric emergencies.
  • States and communities can address social determinants of health, including providing prioritized access to housing and transportation services. They can develop policies to ensure women with high-risk pregnancies deliver at hospitals with specialized health care providers and equipment. They can support Maternal Mortality Review Committees to review the causes behind every maternal death and identify actions to prevent future deaths, and support Perinatal Quality Collaboratives which aim to improve the quality of care that mothers and their babies receive.

Maternal mortality is a complex public health issue that requires a combination of solutions. Hear Her is one element of a comprehensive strategy by CDC to reduce pregnancy-related complications and deaths.

For more information about CDC’s work on maternal mortality, visit https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/index.html.

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