The number of women experiencing pregnancy and childbirth complications has increased, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Health of America study.

The study examined 1.8 million pregnancies between 2014 to 2018 among commercially-insured women ages 18 to 44. Key findings include a 16.4% increase in pregnancy complications and a 14.2% increase in childbirth complications. Additionally, the study found a nearly 30% increase in the number of women diagnosed with postpartum depression.

Dr. Deb Esser, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s (BCBSNE) chief medical officer, said these statistics relate to the health of millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996.

“Millennials have more chronic disease, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, in their age group when compared to the generation prior to them,” Esser said. “If we look at chronic disease and add a pregnancy on top of it, we’re going to have an increase in complications.”

BCBS has previously examined millennial health trends and found that this age group faces health challenges at an earlier age than previous generations, which may impact long-term health and wellness.

Esser said while it’s concerning to see an increase in pregnancy complications, women can work with their doctors to reduce their risk.

“If you stay on top of your health pre-pregnancy, maintain a healthy diet and control your blood pressure, weight and blood sugars, you can really reduce your risk of having a complication during pregnancy or childbirth,” she said.

Women should also prioritize their prenatal doctor appointments to maintain a healthy pregnancy. However, the study found the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted prenatal care for many women.

In fact, one in four women surveyed said they missed a prenatal appointment since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s important to keep your prenatal appointments with your physician because that’s where you’re going to catch problems from complications of pregnancy, like pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes,” Esser said. “That’s been difficult with COVID-19 because a lot of places have really limited the number of healthy patients coming into the office.”

The study supports this and found 61% of women surveyed experienced limited hours at their doctor’s office.

However, even without the impact of the pandemic, a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association survey discovered 14% of commercially-insured women did not receive prenatal care in the first trimester of their pregnancy; 46% did not receive this care because of social barriers, like a lack of transportation and availability of appointments.

“It’s important that the health system works to address barriers like these to improve the health of pregnant women and their babies pre and post-delivery,” Esser said.

BCBSNE offers a free pregnancy care program to help members maintain a healthy pregnancy. This program is available through the Wellframe app and connects members to a variety of resources, including:

  • A registered nurse, who is available to chat and answer questions
  • Articles on topics like delivery and breast feeding
  • Appointment reminders

Learn more.

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