Northwest Health’s ‘I Gave Birth’ initiative aims to put dent in Indiana’s high rate of maternal deaths

Northwest Health hopes to put a dent in Indiana’s maternal death rate, the third worst in the nation last year, with its new “I Gave Birth” initiative.

The healthcare system strives to improve postpartum care as The Centers for Disease Control estimates 80% of postpartum maternal deaths are preventable.

Northwest Health is giving new moms “I Give Birth” bracelets, which is meant to make healthcare providers, family members and other aware of potentially life-threatening complications new moms face and the warning signs. Northwest Health hospitals are the first in the Region to take part in the “I Gave Birth” initiative, which has been pursued in North Carolina and elsewhere.

“Most women who give birth recover without problems. Yet, any woman can have complications after the birth of a baby,” said Tracey Ratkay, perinatal coordinator of the Birthing & Family Care Center at Northwest Health – Porter Hospital in Valparaiso. “By teaching new moms and their families to pay extra attention to post-birth warning signs, we can save lives and improve the quality of postpartum care in our community.”

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Moms can have high blood pressure and other issues a full year after giving birth, Ratkay said. Many conditions can be very serious.

“If mom is hemorrhaging and in shock and can’t speak for herself in the emergency department, we want them to know she’s a recent mother,” she said. “Wearing that bracelets means the emergency department will know she just gave birth and what to look for and ask for in her health history, whether the mom comes in for physical health or mental health. It’s important to come seek help with many conditions such as with mental health if you’re thinking about hurting yourself or your baby.”

Northwest Health hospitals have been educating staff about potential complications and unique care needs for postpartum moms.

“Our goal is to facilitate prompt recognition of postpartum complications, which in time can decrease maternal mortality,” said Stephanie Didion, director of the Birthing and Family Care Center at Northwest Health – Porter. “As an example, one study showed that women seeking emergency services wearing these bracelets received life-saving medications within minutes of seeking care.”

New mothers are asked to wear the bracelets for at least 12 weeks.

The hope is to raise awareness about postpartum warning signs like chest pain, seizures, heavy bleeding, obstructed breathing, shortness of breath, a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, painful headaches, vision changes, bad smelling vaginal blood, incisions that aren’t healing and redness, swelling, warmth of pain in the calf.

“At Northwest Health, we never stop caring for our new moms,” said Didion. “By launching the ‘I Gave Birth’ program we are educating new moms about these serious post-birth warning signs and empowering them with the knowledge to seek immediate care which may possibly save their lives. The hope is that other hospitals will also implement the ‘I Gave Birth” initiative to educate providers, patients and families to postpartum complications and escalate appropriate care in our community.”

Indiana had a maternal mortality rate of 44 deaths per 100,000 live births last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The Indiana legislature passed legislation in 2017 try to address the issue, such as by publishing information about hospitals’ birthing facilities to better inform patients about the quality of care there.

“Nobody likes these numbers,” Didion said. “We’re working on it. It’s part of a community effort to wrap arms around mom and save lives.”

High maternal mortality rates are not unique to Indiana, Ratkay said. They are the result of a number of factors, including preeclampsia, maternal hypertension, diabetes, and more women having babies later in life and through in vitro fertilization.

“We are the worst industrialized nation in the world for maternal mortality,” Ratkay said. “We have sicker moms with higher acuity coming in to give birth.”

The University of North Carolina first came up with the “I Gave Birth” initiative and it spread throughout the Tar Heel State. Northwest learned about it at a conference and decided the best practice could help here as well.

“We started looking into it as a community effort and community problem,” Didion said. “We want to make people aware of post-partum complications like hypertension, infection, sepsis or mental health that will put them on the avenue to receiving potentially life-saving care. We need to put it on the radar because even young women who appear healthy who have given birth are at risk.”

The earlier such issues get treated the better the outcomes.

“The biggest problem is denial and delay,” Didion said. “Moms want to be home with the baby and think or reasons why they haven’t slept in three days, are so thirsty or have a headache that’s not getting better. They need to get it checked out.”

Many of the most life-threatening conditions occur in the first six weeks but Northwest Health is encouraging new moms to wear the bracelets longer since some issues can crop up as long as a year later.

“We don’t want them to wear it too long because that would diminish its value,” Ratkay said. “But the majority of deaths occur in the first six weeks.”

Northwest Health hopes to help reduce the state’s maternal mortality rate as much as possible.

“There is no reason why maternal mortality should be this high in 2023 in the United States, the last industrialized country in the world in maternal mortality,” Ratkay said. “Our goal is to save lives.”

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