Shocking results from a new study on the mistreatment of mothers by medical staff

In September of 2017, famed tennis star Serena Williams experienced shortness of breath during her recovery from the C-section delivery of her daughter, Alexa (1). Because she had a history of blood clots, she assumed it was a pulmonary embolism, and chased down a nurse to ask for a CT scan and IV heparin. The nurse thought she might be confused because of her pain medication, and sent for a doctor, who gave her an ultrasound instead. She advocated for herself, and demanded a CT, which when finally administered did, in fact, show several small blood clots in her lungs. 

It is unfortunately not uncommon for mothers to have their requests ignored or treatments delayed. This has been referred to as “maternal mistreatment.” In cases like Serena’s, maternal mistreatment can affect the mother’s health, the health of her baby, and the future of their family. 

Studying maternal mistreatment

In 2016, a study called The Giving Voice to Mothers Study was launched to analyze maternity care experiences by women who had given birth between 2010 and 2016 (2). A survey was given to 2,700 women who matched this criteria. The study sought to reach a broad range of women from various backgrounds, economic circumstances, etc. Some of the women did not complete the survey, so results were taken from the 2,138 women who did.

64.5% of the participants were between the ages of 25 and 35 when they gave birth. 13.5% were pregnant at the time of data collection (2). Participants from all over the U.S. submitted complete surveys, but 29.7% of the surveys were submitted by residents of New York State.

Based on these survey results, one in six women reported experiencing one or more types of mistreatment. These included instances of doctors, nurses, or midwives (2, 3):

  • Shouting at them or scolding them: 8.5% of women reported this.
  • Threatening to withhold treatment or forcing unwanted treatment: 4.5% of women reported this.
  • Ignoring them, not responding to their requests, or refusing their requests: 7.8% of women reported this.
  • Violating physical privacy: 5.5% of women reported this.

Racial disparities

The rates of such mistreatment were higher in women of color, with (2):

  • 32.8% of the women who experienced mistreatment being Indigenous women
  • 25% of the women who experienced mistreatment being Hispanic women
  • 22.5% of the women who experienced mistreatment being Black women
  • 14.1% of the women who experienced mistreatment being White women

Racial disparity in the treatment of women during childbirth is an astounding and devastating issue, one that has only recently made major news. A survey conducted by NPR in 2017 found that 33% of black women said that they had been discriminated against because of their race by a medical professional (4). Black expectant and new mothers often said their nurses and doctors did not take their pain seriously. 

Age disparities

The rates of such mistreatment were also higher in younger women, with (2):

  • 25% of women 24 and under reporting mistreatment
  • 14% of women over 30 reporting mistreatment
  • First-time mothers being twice as likely to report mistreatment than multiparous women

The facts

The mistreatment of women during and surrounding childbirth is widespread, and the disasters it can cause are abundantly apparent. Mistreatment in a hospital doesn’t amount to just a passive eye-roll or a stern glance. A medical professional who doesn’t listen to your needs during childbirth can be fatal. Unsurprisingly, then, Black mothers, who experience a larger percentage of mistreatment, have been found to die at 3-4 times the rate of white mothers.

In general, roughly 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications each year in America (5). The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed countries (6). About 3 in 5 of these deaths could have been prevented (5). 

About ABC Law Centers

ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. It can be caused by many things, including fetal oxygen deprivation, trauma from impact during delivery, premature birth, medical negligence, and more. These injuries can impair the baby’s internal systems, with impacts ranging from mild bruising and lacerations to permanent injury or lifelong disability. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources. 

If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win. 

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Related Reading


  1. Haskell, R. (2018, January 16). Serena Williams on Motherhood, Marriage, and Making Her Comeback. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from
  2. Vedam, S., Stoll, K.,  Khemet Taiwo, T., Rubashkin, N.,  Cheyney, M., Strauss, N., . . . Declercq, E. (2019, June 11). The Giving Voice to Mothers study: Inequity and mistreatment during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from
  3. Belluz, J. (2019, June 20). A shocking number of women are harassed, ignored, or mistreated during childbirth. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from
  4. Nina Martin, P., & Montagne, R. (2017, December 08). Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving’s Story Explains Why. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from
  5. Pregnancy-related Deaths | VitalSigns | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2019, from
  6. Board, T. E. (2018, August 01). High maternal death rate shames America among developed nations. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

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