In the United States, over 60% of maternal deaths occur during the postpartum period. Often, women and their support systems are unaware of the signs and symptoms of a complication after childbirth, and as a result, do not seek appropriate, timely care.

Most maternal deaths occur
in the weeks after childbirth

What information isn’t being discussed?

Recent research has shown that many nurses across the country are ill-informed about the dangers mothers face after giving birth. They also spend very little time — usually 10 minutes or less — talking with new mothers about symptoms like headaches, painful swelling, and breathing problems, which could indicate a life-threatening condition.

How can we be sure these conversations take place?

Merck for Mothers supported the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) to make sure new mothers are aware of health risks that may occur during the postpartum period. The project trained nurses to provide consistent education on potentially life-threatening complications when they discharge new mothers from the hospital. That way, if a problem arises, women and their families know whether it may be serious and can seek treatment immediately.

The postpartum period is critical. By helping mothers recognize when their bodies are not healing properly, we are able to give them the tools they need to take charge of their own health.


Beverly gave birth at a hospital participating in a postpartum education project developed by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). Before leaving the hospital, she was taught the warning signs of a life-threatening postpartum complication and was given the checklist to put on the fridge at home. Nine days later, she started to feel shortness of breath that was getting worse throughout the day. She told her mom to check the refrigerator to see whether this symptom was on the list of warning signs.

Beverly, her mother and her newborn immediately returned to the ER where the doctors found a small blood clot in Beverly’s lung. She was admitted to the women’s unit, so she could stay with her baby and continue to breastfeed, and was treated for a pulmonary embolism. Beverly survived this life-threatening complication, thanks to this education program.

*Not her real name