New Study Uncovers The Long-Term Dangers Of This Childbirth Experience

For most expectant mothers in the U.S., medical advancements have decreased the rate of complications during childbirth.

Most American mothers can expect a fairly safe delivery and quick hospital discharge postpartum.

But a first-of-its-kind study has found a link that could cause serious – and lasting — implications for mom, baby, and the family during and after childbirth.

A great deal of research has been conducted on premature birth and maternal health complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

But until now, no one has really studied the connection between the two – or the consequences of families experiencing both.

Research by the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, University of California (UCSF), and Stanford University have now made a connection between premature birth and maternal complications and released their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine.

The effects of this “dual burden” may seem obvious.  After all, if a mother is experiencing complications during pregnancy, there is a greater risk of premature birth.

But the study goes far beyond what is already known in that regard to include what happens when a mother unexpectedly goes into premature labor and experiences complications unknown until delivery.

And while factors between the two have been studied, this is the first time that researchers are uncovering just how dangerous the impact of this “dual burden” can be on the long-term health of mom and baby – and its implications on the family as a whole.

The study focused on more than three million births in California over five years.

They found that while maternal “morbidity” — meaning severe complications like excessive bleeding, heart failure, and blood clots, to name a few — is rare, it is on the rise, nearly doubling since 2002.

The research found that a quarter of women with serious childbirth complications had their babies prematurely due to preterm labor, not medical intervention to induce labor due to health concerns.

This “dual burden” accounts for close to 300 of every 10,000 births, and affects African-American women twice as often as white women.

Women with a higher risk factor for “dual burden” childbirth include those who smoke during pregnancy, have high blood pressure or diabetes, or are giving birth to multiples – especially if they undergo a cesarean.

So, what does the new research really show long-term?

First of all, premature babies face their own health complications and risks of developmental and physical delays.

And mothers who suffer severe health complications during childbirth are at increased risk for health issues down the road.

But these two situations combined can cause additional stress on the entire family.  A premature baby needs extra attention and contact with mom, and that may be delayed if mom is in danger herself.

Additionally, the added emotional stress can have long-term consequences for both parents.

When the health of both mother and child are in danger, the stress on the spouse/father can be intense.  Both parents can experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after surviving a life-threatening scenario for both mom and baby.

The financial burden can be tremendous, leading to marital problems and even issues with parent-child attachment.

Researchers are also finding that mothers who have experienced a “dual burden” birth may have lifelong feelings of fear, failure, and low self-esteem.  

It is heartbreaking to imagine how a woman would feel if both she and her child were in such a fight for survival.

So what can be done to decrease this risk?

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The most important cause of long-term consequences in “dual burden” births is that different teams of medical specialists often handle the care of the mother and the premature baby – and they often do not effectively communicate.

Researchers stress the importance of creating new standards and protocols that coordinate the medical teams caring for the mother and the baby so that the well-being of the entire family is made the focus.  

Early monitoring of mothers who have any of the risk factors or underlying health issues is vital.  

This is especially important in women who have the highest risk – low-income African-American women who may not have access to good prenatal care or the necessary advanced care that may be denied because of finances.

And all mothers and their families who have experienced a “dual burden” birth must be offered resources and support as they transition from hospital to home.  

These resources, again, are often neglected for lower-income women, so medical teams must establish ways to monitor health and well-being on a long-term basis.

The lasting health issues and emotional trauma caused by a “dual burden” birth can be devastating to the entire family, and researchers will continue to study outcomes in order to inform medical personnel of the need for ongoing patient support.

Have you ever heard of a “dual burden” birth, or do you know someone who experienced this?  What do you think can be done to provide support to these families?  Leave us your comments.