Talking About Maternal Health and Merck for Mothers

  I have recently returned from San Jose where I attended the BlogHer annual conference and a special event hosted by Merck for Mothers.  Merck for Mothers is a “10 – year, $500 million initiative focused on creating a world where no woman dies giving birth.”  I became a blog ambassador for the initiative, and I went to the event specifically to learn more about their goals, and what I can do to help raise awareness about maternal mortality.  I was surprised to learn that as often as every 10 minutes, a woman in the U.S nearly dies from pregnancy or childbirth complications.  The Merck for Mothers initiative came about because most of these deaths are in fact preventable.

I’ll be honest, when I think of maternal mortality, my mind pulls up pictures of underdeveloped countries – where medical care is scarce and the health of a pregnant woman takes a back seat to simple survival. It was shocking to me how high the numbers were in the United States.  In the U.S. there are three leading causes of maternal death.  These three causes are preeclampsia (severe high blood pressure), embolism (pulmonary blood clot), and postpartum hemorrhage.

What struck me more than the actual information I learned at the event, was where I learned it – in a conference room in San Jose, as opposed to the numerous hours I spent in my OB/GYN’s office during both my pregnancies. That seemed to be a common sentiment as one by one during the Q and A, women in the audience spoke about how they actually had preeclampsia… had the common signs of persistent headache, slightly blurred vision, or dizziness… but because no one had ever mentioned what to look out for, they didn’t take it seriously.

Some women are lucky.

Some are not.

Some women die of complications, not because their death was inevitable – but because they just didn’t decide to call or go to the doctor in time.

They didn’t know.

I personally knew most of the signs of preeclampsia when I was pregnant, but I didn’t get it from my doctor. When I was pregnant, I voraciously read every article I could get my hands on about pregnancy. I was anxious, and a lot of times what calms anxiety is knowledge.

Merck for Mothers seems to feel the same way, because part of what they are doing is encouraging people to have “PEP talks.”  PEP comes from the first letters of Preeclampsia, Embolism, and Postpartum hemorrhage.

Pregnant women should have a “PEP talk” with their doctor, asking specifically about the leading pregnancy complications and what to look for.  Friends and family can encourage “PEP talks” between providers and mothers.

Any woman can be at risk for complications, so information is one the best weapons against maternal mortality.  Preeclampsia affects 5-10 out of every 100 pregnancies in the U.S. each year, which is common enough to warrant a discussion, and sadly we are still lacking on a standard consistency of care.  The information most women get depends on which doctor they’ve decided to go to.


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You can help by pledging to have a “PEP talk.”   You can help spread the word about the facts.  Community initiatives, data collecting, implementing standards…

these are all things Merck for Mothers is working on, but these things take time.

The spreading of useful knowledge, though…   that can happen now.



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