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Maternal deaths rising nationwide, Indiana at top of list

A warning to expectant mothers across the state about maternal death rates.

Pregnancy is a time when most moms-to-be are busy picking names, colors and nursery décor but's also a time to arm yourself with information.

Maternal death rates are on the rise nationwide and Indiana ranks near the top of the list.

There is already work happening to reverse the trend-including a new review board formed by the state, but the work starts with knowledge.

Indiana ranks number 3 in the country for the highest number of maternal death rates.

Nearly 44 mothers are dying per every 100,000 births, these stats gathered by the CDC.

"The rate in Indiana is twice the national rate," said Sally Dixon with the St. Joseph County Health Department.

Medical professionals are analyzing the data.

"Compared to other westernized countries, our rate is going up while everyone else is going down," said Dixon.

Dixon is a member of the newly formed Maternal Mortality Review Board for Indiana at the state health department. She also oversees the Infant Mortality Review Board of St. Joseph County.

The Maternal Mortality Review Board was just formed after this past legislative session and first met in August.

"As you look at those numbers, and you look at the cases, you start to see trends and patterns that can help you see where we can make a difference in prevention," said Dixon.

A place that's already defying the state's average, Memorial Hospital in downtown South Bend.

There are only 4 maternal deaths per 100,000 births at Memorial since 1991.

While they are proud of the work they are doing, doctors here say there's a long road ahead including just bringing awareness to the issue.

"It's sort of one of those things where if it didn't happen to you or somebody you know-that's something your grandma talked about that somebody died in childbirth," said Dr. Elaine Caroll, the Medical Director for Maternal Fetal Medicine at Memorial.

Carroll said Memorial already has protocol for the biggest risk factors.

"Safety bundles are groups of kinds of standardized protocol for what you put in place for what to do in situations that are really common for us," said Carroll.

The biggest issues that could lead to death include hemorrhages, high blood pressure and blood clots.

The protocols are in place to monitor all of these possibilities, for example when there is blood loss.

"We used to estimate it, now we measure it and weigh things so we are not wrong on how much blood was lost and how quickly we respond," said Caroll.

Dr. Carroll said it's a team effort. Hospitals and medical providers have a big responsibility, so do expectant moms.

"A woman can't do anything about the fact that she has a postpartum hemorrhage. We have to handle that. She can get her flu shot. Because pregnancy greatly increases your risk to die or be hospitalized from the flu," said Caroll.

There are other steps new moms can take too, managing your health even before getting pregnant, watching your weight, quitting smoking. All are big risk factors.

"We would see all patients before they ever got pregnant to talk to them about what's going on in their life-health issues, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity," Dr. Ed Durbin is the Medical Director of Obstetric at Memorial.

Dr. Durbin mothers to know, there are a lot of variables in their control.

"We emphasize getting prenatal care as early as possible," said Durbin.

Even the most healthy women can still have problems before during and after child birth, so being educated is the key.

"The impact of losing a mother is incalculable, certainly for her family and her children," said Caroll.

The state will begin analyzing data in the years to come with the newly formed maternal death review board.

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