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Most pregnant women have fears surrounding their upcoming labor and delivery. Yet suffering a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure are unlikely to be on any expectant mother's list of worries. A new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that it's exactly these maternal complications that are on the rise. Four million women give birth in the United States each year. The study's lead author, Dr William M Callaghan from the CDC, was quick to point out that the research team didn't mean to scare you if you are pregnant. The risk of serious complications is still tiny, and it is statistically unlikely that anything like that will happen to you: "We don't want to send the message that pregnant women should be afraid." The rate of serious maternal complications during childbirth or the immediate postpartum period almost doubled between 1998 and 2008. In the period from 2008 to 2009, there were 129 cases of severe complications for every 10,000 births.

That is a very small number, but still a significant rise when you take into account these complications are up 75 percent compared to 10 years earlier. The need for cardiac operations during childbirth or immediately after had especially risen dramatically. Dr Callaghan shared his thoughts on the study's findings: "Not all complications can be avoided, of course. But the best outcomes happen when a woman is as healthy as possible going into pregnancy." He added that "most women do fine, and even most women with significant disease before pregnancy do fine." So, are serious maternal complications becoming more prevalent? This study used discharge records from hospitals to collect their data. From them, the team said, it was impossible to conclude why a certain new mother suffered an adverse outcome. They did have their thoughts about that, however.

Older mothers, mothers with preexisting and possibly congenital conditions (who would not have survived to the point they wanted to pursue pregnancy before), and more women with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure giving birth may be behind the sharp increase in maternal complications. What can you do to give your baby the best start in life and to prevent complications that may cost you your life? All women who are thinking about trying to conceive should go for a preconception health check-up with their family doctor, and with a specialist if they have a known preexisting condition. Good-quality prenatal care may also catch some red flags earlier, making adequate treatment possible. And of course, the right care during labor and delivery goes a long way too.

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