As the maternal mortality rate continues to decline throughout the world, the U.S. is the only country in which it is increasing.
As the maternal mortality rate in the United States continues to climb, one solution may be as close as educating the nurses caring for this fragile population.


The topic of maternal mortality has been prevalent in the news lately, thanks in large part to an investigation led by NPR and ProPublica. In May 2017 the two published an article that illustrated that more American women are dying from pregnancy related complications than any other developed country in the world. In fact, as the maternal mortality rate continues to decline throughout the world, the U.S. is the only country in which it is increasing.

While there has been a considerable amount of speculation as to the cause of the increasing maternal mortality rates, very little evidence has been presented thus far. However, a new study published this month in the MCN: American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing may shed some light on the topic. According to the survey, many of the health care professionals caring for women during the postpartum period lack the appropriate knowledge of the health risks that women face during this critical time.

Related: Maternal Mortality is Rising in Many US States

The purpose of the study was two-fold. First, the survey aimed to assess the knowledge base of the postpartum registered nurse (RN) on the topics of maternal morbidity and mortality. Second, the survey sought to find out how efficiently discharge education was provided to women about the signs and symptoms of potential postpartum complications.

The researchers surveyed 372 postpartum nurses throughout the country, one-third of whom had master's or doctoral degrees, and the results were concerning. 88% of postpartum nurses could not correctly identify the leading three causes of maternal mortality, and only 24% could identify heart-related problems as the primary cause of death among new moms.

Equally concerning is the fact that approximately half of the responding nurses were unaware of the current trends in maternal mortality. 46% of the nurses surveyed were not aware of the rising rates of maternal mortality in the United States, and 19% thought the rate was decreasing.

Related: Masking Maternal Mortality

"If nurses aren't aware that there's been a rise in maternal mortality, then it makes it less urgent to explain to women what the warning signs are," study author Debra Bingham told NPR.

On the day of discharge, 67% of the nurses said that they spend 10 minutes or less teaching about the warning signs of potential maternal complications. The majority of the nurses stated that they only taught about dangerous complications, such as a blood clot, if it was relevant. However, as the study points out, it is nearly impossible to predict who will develop the unpredictable and life-threatening complications.

The nurses were aware of the importance of this education, with 95% acknowledging a link between postpartum education and mortality and 72% feeling that it was their responsibility to provide the women with this much-needed education.

"Although most nurses felt it was their responsibility, many of them did not report providing consistent messaging to all women," lead author Patricia Suplee said in an interview. In an earlier study conducted by the same author, researchers found that nurses spent the majority of their time educating new moms how to care for their babies, as opposed to themselves.

The findings suggest that additional nursing education would be helpful, with particular attention to younger nurses. The study found that nurses over the age of 40 had significantly higher confidence rates in teaching about postpartum complications.

While there is still so far to go regarding understanding and fixing the problem of maternal mortality, providing more comprehensive education and training to the nurses caring for this population is an excellent place to start.