Did you know that every week in the U.S., 1,000 pregnant women have childbirth complications? This is a recent statistic published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and reported by Laura Landro of the Wall Street Journal.

Complications such as heart attacks, breathing problems and kidney problems during or after pregnancy have increased by 75% for many reasons including advanced maternal age (pregnancy after age 35), obesity and medical problems. Women who have had multiple c. sections are also at risk. While alarming, I’m grateful that this issue is finally taking center stage when it comes to public awareness. For years, the medical community has focused on the safety of the infant but as a result of these new statistics, attention regarding patient safety and prevention of complications will now be focused on the mother, something I had attempted to do when I wrote The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy: How to Minimize Complications and Have a Healthy Pregnancy. The title is admittedly long, but it was the only prenatal book on the market that addressed the dreaded word “complications.” Prenatal healthcare providers have done a lousy job preparing pregnant women for potential problems and how to recognize them. We tend to tell you what you want to hear, rather than the truth regarding possible complications that can occur before, during and after having a baby.

What are the most common complications that occur during childbirth? Hemorrhage or significant bleeding that usually occurs after the baby is delivered but before the placenta is expelled. The second most common problem is a blood clot to the lung (aka pulmonary embolus). Are there things that a pregnant woman can do to protect herself? You bet there is. First, identify your risk factors. Are you over 35, African American, obese, have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney problems? If yes, then you need to be very selective about where you have your baby. And yes, being African American is a risk factor for pregnancy complications despite your socio-economic background.

Many hospitals have emergency simulation drills they practice on a routine basis. Find out if your hospital is one of them. All pregnant women with risk factors should have a consultation with a maternal fetal medicine specialist (high risk pregnancy doctor) for further evaluation. Being PRO-active rather than RE-active about your pregnancy is a strategy that can save your life.

Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.