5 Natural Ayurvedic Tips For A Pain-Free Period

5 Natural, Ayurvedic Tips for Pain-Free Period

5 Natural, Ayurvedic Tips for Pain-Free Period

It was not until recently that I really believed that a pain-free, normal period was possible.

Having popped various pills to mitigate the excruciating pain I used to endure during each and everycycle, I made a firm resolution at age 22 that I would no longer take any kind of painkiller during my periods; I decided I would simply take the pain.

It was not until encountering the amazing science of Ayurveda three years later that pain-free periods became not only a perceivable possibility, but rather a reality for me.

Ayurveda: The Science of Life

Stemming from the root Sanskrit words “ayush,” which means “life,” and “veda,” which is “knowledge” or “the study of,” Ayurveda is the knowledge or study of life. It is the sister science of Yoga, which allows us to experience feeling as great as we do when we get off of our mats in each and every moment of every day.

What sets Ayurveda apart from the modern medical system of healthcare is that it actually addresses the root causes of why people manifest certain health problems in the first place. That’s right—this is not mere symptom management, which keeps you caught in a continuous cycle of helplessness and hopelessness.

Ayurveda is so empowering because it gives you tools to say goodbye to symptoms—and keep them away, by providing customized solutions that take into consideration a wide range of causative factors for disease.

The Disease-Fighting Potential Of Our Daily Routines

In Ayurveda, the daily routine is called Dinacharya. Stemming from the words “din,” which means “day,” and “charya,” which means “to follow,” Ayurveda’s daily routines allow us to live in greater harmony with nature, and to thereby prevent the onset of a variety of different diseases. These daily routines also actually activate health.

Ayurveda’s Dinacharya recommendations extend to many different situations, including how to optimally manage one’s monthly cycle, so that it does not manage you instead (as often happens when we are not armed with knowledge to empower ourselves).

Following these tips has truly transformed my whole experience of that time of the month, which I no longer anticipate with the same kind of fearful dread I used to feel about having periods.

Avoid Exercise (including yoga asanas, or poses)

This one may come as a surprise for some of you out there who may utilize the endorphins released from exercise to counteract pain during or before periods. Ayurveda recommends avoiding exercise during one’s cycle; however, exercise activates a bio-force called Vata dosha in the body. This means no yoga asanas, too; as much as I used to love practicing asanas during my period, I have noticed how much better I feel now that I have stopped.

One of the fundamental principles of Ayurveda is the theory of the five great elements (ether, air, fire, water and earth) as the building blocks of the entire universe, as well as individual mind/body containers. As one of three doshas, Vata dosha is comprised of the ether and air elements.

When aggravated in the body, as it easily becomes when a woman exercises during her period, Vata dosha has the potential to create 80 different diseases (compared with the possibility of only 40 and 20 diseases associated with the other two doshas, called Pitta and Kapha).

In addition to its great potential to create disease and disturbance throughout the body, as well as the mind, it is an imbalanced Vata dosha that creates pain. Hence, there is a great emphasis on balancing and calming Vata dosha in Ayurveda.

Abstain From Sexual Activity

Sex is a form of exercise, and it is for the same reasons listed above that Ayurveda recommends abstaining during that time of the month. There are five subtypes of Vata dosha. Sexual activity disturbs the flow of the downward flowing Vata dosha, in particular. When downward flowing air and ether get disturbed in their natural course for too long, a woman can increase her chances of menstrual disturbance, painful periods, and even future miscarriages.

Cut Down On Unnecessary Travel

Vata dosha represents the dynamic dimension of the three doshas in Ayurveda. Because the nature of air is to constantly flow, Vata is accordingly connected with the principle of movement. Hence, too much motion aggravates Vata dosha, which is why Ayurveda recommends that menstruating women just say no to unnecessary travel during their cycles.

Eat Light

The health of the digestive fire (called Agni) is considered a reflection of one’s overall health in Ayurveda. Ayurveda teaches how important it is to eat foods that are light, warm and cooked, as heavy, cold and raw foods are considered aggravating to Vata dosha, which is cold by nature. The digestive fire is naturally lowered when a woman menstruates, so it is especially important for women to follow this tip during periods.

Drink Warm Water With Ajwain Seeds

Ajwain seeds (Bishop’s weed) is an amazing Ayurvedic spice that you can boil in a small pot of water. You can then drink this Ajwain water hot, warm or at room temperature, depending on your particular constitution (which an Ayurvedic practitioner can help you determine) whenever you are having active period-related pain. It was so amazing to me to discover that a solution to all those years of painful periods was right in my traditional Indian mother’s spice cabinet all along!

One caveat: Those who are suffering from excess heat or heat-related conditions, or suspect they are, may not wish to follow this advice, as Ajwain seeds are heating in potency. If you are in doubt about whether this advice suits you, do consult an Ayurveda practitioner.

The best part of following the above advice is that it also paves the way for an ease-filled futuremenopause experience.

The lingering symptoms of Ebola survivors

One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Ebola virus is its ability to hide out in survivors’ bodies and evade detection by the immune system.

This “trick” of the virus became abundantly clear last week when Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey was readmitted to a London hospital on October 9 in “serious condition.” This was a full nine months after doctors said she had made a full recovery from Ebola.

“The virus, several experts said, managed to somehow persist and apparently re-emerged to cause a severe disorder of her central nervous system,” The New York Times wrote on Wednesday. “Her spinal fluid had tested positive for traces of Ebola.”

As doctors are poignantly learning, saying a patient is “cured” of the virus doesn’t necessarily mean it is completely eradicated from the body. Ebola survivors like Cafferkey are experiencing lingering symptoms such as vision and hearing loss, seizures, insomnia, and body aches that have persisted for months following infection.

The virus — which is transmitted through infected bodily fluids and can cause severe fever, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, pain, and bruising — kills about half of those who contract it.

As of October, Ebola has killed a staggering 11,312 people. This includes the 2014 epidemic, which quickly spread through West Africa and caused panic in the US and Europe.

While those who count themselves among the survivors are especially lucky to be alive, many are still suffering. Doctors are still learning what other nasty health issues can flare up long after defeating the primary, life-threatening infection.

One of the best sources of information we have on these latent symptoms is Dr. Ian Crozier, an American Ebola survivor who contracted the illness while treating patients in Sierra Leone in August 2014.

Protective suits are left to dry after an Ebola training session held by Spain's Red Cross in Madrid October 29, 2014.  REUTERS/Susana Vera Thomson ReutersProtective suits are left to dry after an Ebola training session held by Spain’s Red Cross in Madrid.

At an infectious-disease conference in San Diego on October 7, Crozier detailed some of the bizarre and devastating symptoms he had experienced since his more than 40-day recoveryat Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The most striking of those symptoms were severe eye issues, which began about 10 weeks after his first symptoms of Ebola and nearly caused him to go blind. A report published in The New England Journal of Medicine on May 7 described the flotilla of symptoms.

When Crozier was released from the hospital 10 weeks after Ebola onset, the virus was not detectable in his blood and urine but was present in his semen.

He experienced difficulty walking, lower-back pain, inflammation of his Achilles tendon, and pins-and-needles sensations in his lower limbs. Crozier also began to feel burning in his eyes, along with the feeling that something was in his eyes and a sensitivity to light. An eye exam revealed scarring on the inside surface of his eye and a small hemorrhage next to one of the scars in his left eye.

About a month later, these symptoms worsened. His doctors took a sample of the fluid that sits between the cornea and lens and — lo and behold — it tested positive for Ebola.

His vision continued to decline in his left eye, and at one point his eye color even turned from blue to bright green.

Screen Shot 2015 10 14 at 12.18.06 PMCNNIan Crozier’s eye turned from blue to green following Ebola disease.

“In addition to the color change, I lost pressure in my eye, my eye began getting softer and losing its architecture,” Crozier said in a video interview with CNN. “So by the time I flew back to Phoenix, it was like looking through a block of cheese.”

Eye problems aren’t unusual among Ebola survivors. About 25% of Ebola survivors who have been evaluated by medical doctors have reported changes in vision, according to the Associated Press.

Crozier’s vision has since improved after what turned out to be cellular debris that was blocking his line of vision detached from his retina. But according to Live Science, it still isn’t back to normal.

Since Crozier was released from the hospital, he has continued to experience severe back pain, ringing in his ears, hearing loss, and cognitive problems such as impaired short-term memory. He also suffered a seizure while attending a wedding in England this summer,according to Live Science, and has since been put on an antiepileptic drug.

Nina Pham, a Texas nurse who contracted the disease while treating a patient at a Dallas hospital in October 2014, has also had lingering health issues, including hair loss, body aches, nightmares, and insomnia.

A Sierra Leonean doctor practises wearing protective clothing in the Ebola Training Academy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, December 16, 2014. 
REUTERS/Baz RatnerThomson ReutersSierra Leonean doctor practices wearing protective clothing in the Ebola Training Academy in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Few people survive Ebola, so the disease’s long-term effects aren’t well studied. But lingering symptoms such as body and joint aches and fatigue are what you’d expect after any serious infection, Jesse Goodman, an infectious-disease expert and a professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told LiveScience.

Chemicals released by the immune system can make people feel sick, Goodman said, and muscles and tissues could have been injured from the dehydration, malnutrition, and low blood pressure during the disease.

Roughly 13,000 other Ebola survivors are experiencing similar problems as Crozier, Pham, and other survivors. To that end, scientists launched a five-year study in June that will follow 1,500 Ebola survivors and 6,000 people they were in close contact with.

But not all survivors have had such horrendous lasting effects.

Journalist Ashoka Mukpo was emotionally scarred after contracting Ebola while covering the outbreak in Liberia, but in an interview with CNN he said, “I feel pretty strong physically, psychologically, and spiritually right now.” And doctor Rick Sacra, who also contracted Ebola in Liberia, experienced only blurry vision and a bad cough after his recovery at a hospital in Nebraska.

“There is an emerging problem in Ebola survivors,” Crozier said in the video interview with CNN. “It will be a varied spectrum — some will be mild, but there will be patients who develop severe complications and who are going blind. You can imagine an Ebola survivor who’s already been through their own personal hell … and then through a lonelier hell in an ETU [Ebola Treatment Unit],” Crozier continued. “It’s a story we must pay attention to.”

More babies being born with syphilis, which can be prevented with prenatal care

The number of babies born with syphilis — which can spread from a woman to her fetus during pregnancy — jumped 38% from 2012 to 2014, reaching the highest level since 2001, according to a report released Thursday.


Babies with syphilis face serious risks, including death. Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, also can cause miscarriages and stillbirths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the report.

The overall number of babies born with syphilis is relatively small, with 458 infected infants in 2014, or 11.6 cases per 100,000 newborns, according to the report.

But the CDC considers syphilis in babies a “sentinel event” that indicates the overall strength of a health system.

Syphilis is almost entirely preventable, both in adults and babies. Adults and teens can avoid infection either by using condoms during sex, abstaining from sex or being with a monogamous partner. Giving penicillin to pregnant women prevents infection in 98% of newborns, according to the CDC.

In the study, nearly 22% of mothers got no prenatal care, and nearly 10% had no record of pregnancy care. More than 40% of women were not treated for syphilis, while 30% received inadequate care, the report said.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all pregnant women get blood tests for syphilis and chlamydia, which may not cause obvious symptoms. The group recommends testing pregnant women for gonorrhea if they have risk factors for the disease, such as being age 25 or younger or living in an area where the disease is common.

Kevin Ault, a physician and spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, called the lack of adequate screening and care “very concerning.”

New study suggests we’re sending our kids to school too young.

The benefits of waiting a year were dramatic.

How old should our children be before they start a formal education? That’s the question asked by new research from academics at Stanford University in the US, and it turns out that it might be better for our youngsters if they started school later – a whole year later in the case of the Danish children involved in the study.

Researchers used surveys filled out by tens of thousands of parents in Denmark, where youngsters typically start kindergarten at the age of six. Those who started aged seven showed lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity, factors known to be influential in improving self-regulation, which in turn is linked to academic achievement. The effects persisted up until age 11.

“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11,” explained Stanford’s Thomas Dee in a press release.

“It virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at that age would have an ‘abnormal’, or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioural measure.” Dee worked with Hans Henrik Sievertsen of the Danish National Centre for Social Research on the report.

Many developed nations are already choosing to push back the age at which children start pre-school, but this is one of the first major studies to look at the potential mental health implications associated with how kids might eventually perform at school.

Sievertsen told Quartz that the benefits of delaying the entry into kindergarten lasted a lot longer than he expected: in fact, waiting an extra year virtually eliminated the chance that, on average, by age 11 scores for hyperactivity and inattention would be above normal levels. In other words, there’s a very high probability that the children who start aged seven are able to focus and pay attention to what’s happening in the classroom by the time they reach 11.

For parents and authorities involved in the discussion over when to start kindergarten, it’s a useful piece of evidence that shows a clear link to academic performance – the new study confirms the belief that those with lower inattention-hyperactivity ratings achieve higher school assessment scores. Data from 54,241 7-year-olds and 35,902 11-year-olds was used, and the same effects were noted across both genders.

“This is some of the most convincing evidence we’ve seen to support what parents and policymakers have already been doing – choosing to delay kindergarten entry,” added Dee. “The study will give comfort to those who have [delayed entry], and for those who are making the decision, it’ll give them a chance to consider the benefits.”

However, the researchers were keen to point out that levels of inattention and hyperactivity are just two aspects of a child’s development, and many other factors needed to be assessed too – not least the universally available and very highly rated pre-kindergarten facilities available in Denmark. Without these services, children may be better off starting kindergarten earlier, Dee said.

NASA’s released a prototype of the spacesuit astronauts will wear on Mars .

ICYMI, humans are going to Mars in the mid-2030s, and NASA is about to startrecruiting astronauts for the mission. But before it opens those floodgates, the US space agency has provided a little more insight into what those lucky future astronauts will be wearing when they touch down on the Red Planet for the first time.

NASA unveiled its first images of the Z-2 spacesuit advanced prototype last month, and it looks a lot more modern than the white extravehicular mobility unit suits we’re used to seeing on astronauts these days.

That’s because the Z-2 has been designed purely with one purpose in mind – to allow astronauts to explore a foreign planet. The suit won’t be worn during space walks or on board spacecraft, but will be used when humans reach Mars.

“The suit is designed for maximum astronaut productivity on a planetary surface – exploring, collecting samples, and maneuvering in and out of habitats and rovers,” NASA explained.

The suit is also made with adjustable shoulders and waste to allow a range of crew members to fit into just one suit. But despite that flexibility, the Z-2 is incredibly tough, and has a solid upper torso.

“The Z-2 uses advanced composites to achieve a light-weight, high-durability suit that can withstand long-duration missions in the harsh environments found on Mars,” said NASA.

The prototype has changed quite a bit since its origins. The Z-2 was originally chosen last year as part of a public poll, beating out two other designs to be the suit selected to go Mars.

Here’s what it looked like in the original drawings:

nasa-z2-original webNASA

And here’s what it looks like now from the front:

jsc2015e083483 altNASA

And the back:

jsc2015e083484 altNASA

As you can see, the design is still very Tron-inspired, with some cool electroluminescent wiring lighting it up.

And in case you were wondering what’s going on with that Etch A Sketch-looking thing on the back, that’s an entry hatch, which astronauts will use to climb into the garment – think of it more like a spacecraft with which they can explore the planet, rather than a suit.

But even though we now have a prototype built, it doesn’t mean the design is done and dusted.

This Z-2 suit will now be tested here on the ground before it’s tweaked further. But it won’t be going into space because it’s still in non-flight phase, as NASA explains. That means it’s not covered in the fancy materials required in space to block radiation and keep astronauts safe.

So for all you astronaut hopefuls out there, take a good luck at the Z-2. It could be your work uniform one day.


Humans didn’t even see the colour blue until modern times, research suggests .

Earlier this year, we all had our minds torn apart by a dress that was clearly blue and black to some people, and 100 percent white and gold to others. But what’s more mind-blowing is that there’s actually evidence that, until modern times, humans didn’t see the colour blue at all.

In a fascinating feature over at Business Insider, Kevin Loria breaks down the evidence behind the claim, which dates all the way back to the 1800s, when scholar William Gladstone, who later went on to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain, noticed that, in the Odyssey, Homer describes the ocean as “wine-dark” and other strange hues, but he never uses the word ‘blue’.

A few years later, a philologist called Lazarus Geiger decided to follow up on this discovery, and analysed ancient Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts, to find no mention of the word blue. And, when you think about it, why would they need one? Other than the sky, there isn’t really much in nature that is inherently a vibrant blue.

In fact, the first society to have a word for the colour blue was the Egyptians, the only culture that could produce blue dyes. From then, it seems that awareness of the colour spread throughout the modern world.

But just because there was no word for blue, does that mean our ancestors couldn’t see it?

There have been various studies conducted to try to work this out, which you can read more about in Loria’s feature, but one of the most compelling was conducted by Jules Davidoff, a psychologist from Goldsmiths University of London, who worked with the Himba tribe from Namibia. In their language, there is no word for blue and no real distinction between green and blue.

To test whether that meant they couldn’t actually see blue, he showed them a circle with 11 green squares and one painfully obvious blue square. Well, obvious to us, at least, as you can see below. But the Himba tribe struggled to tell Davidoff which of the squares was a different colour to the others. Those who did hazard a guess at which square was different took a long time to get the right answer, and there were a lot of mistakes.


But, interestingly, the Himba have lots more words for green than we do. So to reverse the experiment, Davidoff showed English speakers this same circle experiment with 11 squares of one shade of green, and then one odd square of a different shade. As you can see below, it’s pretty tough for us to distinguish which square is different. In fact, I really just can’t see any differences at all.


The Himba tribe, on the other hand, could spot the odd square out straight away. FYI, it’s this one:


Another study by MIT scientists in 2007 showed that native Russian speakers, who don’t have one single word for blue, but instead have a word for light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy), can discriminate between light and dark shades of blue much faster than English speakers.

This all suggests that, until they had a word from it, it’s likely that our ancestors didn’t see blue at all. Or, more accurately, they probably saw it as we do now, but they never really noticed it. And that’s pretty cool.

Find out more about how language shapes our ability to detect colour in Loria’s article over at Business Insider, and in this fascinating RadioLab episode, which inspired Loria’s feature.

Sleep Paralysis Is the Most Terrifying State of Consciousness

My first introduction to sleep paralysis was through Steven Yeun (aka Glenn on The Walking Dead). He described an incident where he was staying up late into the night, studying for a college exam:

“I went to sleep and while I was falling asleep I fell into sleep paralysis, and that would happen to me a lot,” he said in an interview with The Indoor Kids. “I started feeling a pushing on my chest, and I was like ‘what is this?’ So, I open my eyes … I looked at my stomach and there was a woman’s head.”


It would happen in moments when he was deprived of sleep and had a lot of anxiety, he said. Yeun had no scientific explanation for why his sleep paralysis would happen. However, researchers seem to think it’s closely tied to REM sleep.

The paralysis mechanism has a practical use. It’s in place so we don’t act out our dreams. However, there are cases where that paralysis function fails and we do things in our sleep we don’t remember.

Shelby Harris explains why we feel so terrified when we experience sleep paralysis.

On the flip side, Dan Denis, a Ph.D. student in psychology at the University of Sheffield, explains that sleep paralysis is a moment when “your mind wakes up, but your body doesn’t.”

As for why it happens, he cites one study where a team of Japanese researchers found they were able to induce sleep paralysis in some of their patients by depriving them of REM sleep. Other studies show that people who have irregular sleep, like college students who stay up late studying for exams and shift workers, are at an increased risk of experiencing sleep paralysis.

There’s no formal treatment for “curing” sleep paralysis. But knowing how weird our brains get when it doesn’t get enough sleep, the solution may just be improving diet and getting to bed on time.

Psychopaths like their coffee black like their souls

If you drink your coffee black, you’re one healthy badass. You don’t need all that cream-and-sugar BS because you want that toasty bitter flavor in all its undiluted glory. You laugh in the face of PSLs and Coffee Coolattas. You may even be tempted to trycoffee with 40 times more caffeine.

But you also might be psychopath, says a new study published the journal Appetite.

Researchers gathered a sample of about 1,000 adults and asked them to rate preferences for foods with distinct flavor profiles. Then, the participants took a battery of personality tests assessing antisocial personality traits. We’re not talking skip-the-party-and-Netflix antisocial—this is the psychological kind of antisocial, categorized by behaviors that harm or lack consideration for the wellbeing of others.

When they crunched the numbers, the scientists found that a preference for bitter foods (like radishes, celery, beer and, coffee) was linked to these malevolent traits. The strongest link of all was between bitter flavors and “everyday sadism”—essentially, this is when people enjoy inflicting at least moderate levels of pain upon others, à la Regina George.

It seems crazy, but there actually is some existing science on taste preferences and personality. In previous experiments, bitter flavors have elicited hostility and harsh moral judgments from tasters. And, on the flip side, people who have a stronger preference for sweetness show more agreeableness (a hallmark of not being psychopath). (Check out14 ingredients in your coffee grounds that aren’t coffee.)

Why? It’s still way too early to tell what might be behind this link. The participants could have been affected by the stereotype that “people who like bitter foods also have a bitter personality,” the authors write. Sadists may even prefer bitter foods because of their potential to cause distaste for others. (Sick of sipping your coffee? Here are 6 ways to get your coffee fix without drinking it.)

In our eyes, though, the only logical explanation is that researchers administered these surveys before the participants had their morning coffee. Isn’t everyone a little bit of a psychopath pre-caffeine? That’s what we’re telling ourselves.

Just one energy drink could increase risk of heart disease, experts warn.

Here’s what happens to your body 30 minutes after a can of Rockstar.

The jury has been out on energy drinks for some time. The high amounts of caffeine in the drinks can be dangerous in large quantities, which is why health professionals – and these days the bottles and cans themselves – caution you should limit your intake to one or two drinks per day at most (a warning many people, especially young people, disregard).

But what else do energy drinks do to your body? To find out, researchers from the Mayo Clinic looked at the effects of consuming just one 480 ml (16 oz) energy drink, and their conclusion was alarming: the recorded increase in blood pressure and stress hormone responses were so significant that they could conceivably trigger new cardiovascular events.

“Energy drink consumption has been associated with serious cardiovascular events, possibly related to caffeine and other stimulants,” the researchers write. “We hypothesised that drinking a commercially available energy drink compared with a placebo drink increases blood pressure and heart rate in healthy adults at rest and in response to mental and physical stress… which could predispose to increased cardiovascular risk.”

To test their theory, the researchers gave 25 healthy volunteers aged 18 years or older a 480 ml can of Rockstar (pictured above) and instructed them to drink it within five minutes. The group had fasted beforehand and also abstained from alcohol and caffeine for 24 hours prior to the experiment.

On another testing day two weeks removed (in a random order), the same participants drank a placebo beverage designed to resemble the energy drink in taste, texture and colour – but lacking any of the caffeine or other stimulants found in the Rockstar drink, which includes 240 mg of caffeine, 2000 mg of taurine, and extracts of guarana seed, ginseng root, and milk thistle. Gotta love that milk thistle!

What the researchers found when they compared the results of the two drinking sessions was that consumption of the energy drink saw a 6.4 percent increase in average blood pressure.

Further, the average norepinephrine level – the hormone responsible for mobilising the body into action, especially with regards to the fight-or-flight response – increased from 150 picograms per millilitre to 250 pg/mL in those who consumed the energy drink, whereas the placebo elicited only a 140 pg/mL to 179 pg/mL increase (a 74 percent vs 31 percent change, as the researchers point out).

The authors concede that their study is small and is limited to measuring the effects of just one serve of an energy drink, saying more study is needed to measure how harmful these acute changes in stress hormone responses could be in the bigger picture. Nonetheless, the results they’ve already seen may be of concern – especially to those who consume energy drinks in large amounts.

“These acute hemodynamic and adrenergic changes may predispose to increased cardiovascular risk,” the authors write. “Further research in larger studies is needed to assess whether the observed acute changes are likely to increase cardiovascular risk.”

Has Maternal Mortality Really Doubled in the U.S.?

Statistics have suggested a sharp increase in the number of American women dying as a complication of pregnancy since the late 1980s, but a closer look at the data hints that all is not as it seems

heartbeat graphic

Answers about the increases in U.S. maternal mortality are hard to pin down.

There is no charity walk to raise awareness about the 700 to 800 women that die each year during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth in the U.S. There are no dedicated colored-plastic wristbands. But statistics in recent years have revealed a worrisome trend: the rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past few decades. Whereas 7.2 women died per 100,000 births in 1987, that number swelled to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2009 and 2011. The uptick occurred even as maternal mortality dropped in less-developed settings around the world. Now women giving birth in the U.S. are at a higher risk of dying than those giving birth in China or Saudi Arabia. The reason for this disturbing trend has eluded researchers, however.

So what exactly is it about being in a family way that is getting worse in America? According to some experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), perhaps nothing. A deeper dive into the mortality data and the conditions under which they were collected suggests that the apparent doubling may not necessarily mean that more mothers are dying than ever before. Instead, administrative issues in the past may have camouflaged a problem that is only now coming to light.

Statistics for 40 states and the District of Columbia, gleaned from death certificates, indicate that whereas the reported maternal mortality rate from 1999 to 2002 was 9.8 per 100,000 live births, it jumped to 20.8 per 100,000 live births for the period 2010 to 2013. But the numbers in the latter period may have been affected by a small change in the forms that are filed when a person dies. Until relatively recently most states relied on a death certificate form that was created in 1989. A newer version of the form, released in 2003, added a dedicated question asking whether the person who died was currently or recently pregnant—effectively creating a flag for capturing maternal mortality. Specifically, this recently introduced question asks if the woman was pregnant within the past year, at the time of death or within 42 days of death.

The addition of this question means that the apparent increase in maternal mortality in the U.S. “is almost certainly not a real increase. It’s better detection from the new certificates,” says Robert Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “The numbers are going up but it’s most likely not because women are more likely to die,” he contends. (Anderson’s branch of CDC counts maternal mortality as death during pregnancy or in the following 42 days; some other researchers look at the whole year after giving birth.) States have been slow to switch over to the new form and even now two states—Alabama and West Virginia—still have not adopted it. But “as the certificate with the check box is being implemented over time, we are detecting more maternal deaths,” Anderson says. Another administrative change in how deaths were classified and coded internationally, called the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Edition (ICD-10), is also widely believed to be a contributing factor to the uptick in death numbers.

Yet there may be more to the maternal mortality increase than better detection of an existing problem. Nicholas Kassebaum, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington, has led an independent analysis looking atICD-9 and ICD-10 coding and maternal mortality, and says that it is very unlikely the rise in deaths comes merely from administrative shifts like transitioning to the newICD or introducing a check box. “I can’t completely rule out that there is some effect from changing in coding on the magnitude of maternal mortality,” Kassebaum says, but it’s likely a “small effect.” His team looks at all deaths—not just maternal mortality—so if those deaths had been misclassified elsewhere, they likely would have picked them up and seen a large shift in those numbers following the ICD and check-box transitions, he says.

U.S. maternal mortality rates continue to climb even as other developed countries improve.

A worrisome trend, undetected
Still, even if the newer death toll numbers are just more accurately representing the number of women who die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, it’s a large number that demands explanation. Certainly, childbirth becomes more dangerous when a woman is not healthy before she becomes pregnant, and a growing body of research suggests that poor health prior to pregnancy could be a contributing factor to the high U.S. death toll. Many studies have indicated that an increasing number of pregnant women in the U.S. have health conditions that could boost the risk of problematic complications including chronic health disease, hypertension and diabetes. More than half of the women in the U.S. who become pregnant are above a healthy weight. Women who are 35 or older are also at increased risk of complications during pregnancy. Poor prenatal care and barriers to accessing health care could be killing more women, too.

Inadequate postnatal care may be another driver of mortality in women—one that that doesn’t show up in the official U.S. data analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics because the deaths tend to occur more than 43 days after pregnancy ends. “We are good at responding to life-threatening crisis that may have killed women a generation ago,” Kassebaum observes. But, he notes, poor postnatal care in women who were significantly weakened by childbirth complications may be killing more women.

Why are more women dying between 43 days and a year after the end of pregnancy?

Racial Divide
One aspect of maternal mortality that has not changed over the years is the extent to which it varies by race. The risk of maternal mortality has remained about three to four times higher among black women than white women during the past six decades. Since 1999 maternal mortality has climbed among both black and white women—potentially due to those changes in death certificates and also how deaths are now coded in the U.S. using the ICD-10. Yet even with the cross-race increases in deaths related to pregnancy, in 2007 the maternal mortality rate for black women was still nearly three times higher than the rate for white women.

Maternal mortality rates for black women in the U.S. are roughly  three times higher than the rate for white women.


Researchers have shown that black women are not inherently more likely to have underlying pregnancy complications. Indeed, one national study that looked at five major common causes of maternal death and injury that collectively account for more than a quarter of all pregnancy-related deaths found that black women did not have a significantly higher prevalence than white women of those conditions—preeclampsia, eclampsia, obstetric hemorrhage, placental abruption and placenta previa. Yet black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women with the same complication.

For now, more interventions to keep women healthier even before they get pregnant, better care during and after pregnancy and better tracking of maternal deaths will be essential tools in the fight to save women from these preventable deaths.