By Emily Blobaum, Fearless editor
Millennial women are experiencing some of the highest increases in health conditions that could lead to higher risks of pregnancy and childbirth complications, an analysis by Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield shows.
Millennial women, who are between the ages of 25 and 40 this year, currently make up 85% of all pregnancies.
In a webinar hosted by Count the Kicks on March 9, Mark Talluto, vice president of strategy and analytics for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, gave a brief overview of the maternal health section of the 2019 Health of America report, which examined data from 1.8 million pregnancies among women who were insured through Blue Cross Blue Shield. The data was collected before the pandemic.
The report, which compared Gen Xers and millennials when they were between the ages of 34 and 36 in 2014 and 2017, examined 10 conditions: major depression, substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder, hypertension, hyperactivity, psychotic conditions, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, tobacco use disorder and Type 2 diabetes.
Eight out of 10 conditions examined saw double-digit increases in prevalence among millennials within a four-year span. Conditions with the highest increases were hyperactivity, Type II diabetes and major depression.
Talluto recognized that the increases may be in part due to better diagnosis processes and breaking down stigmas, but described the trends as “alarming.”
“Clearly we have significant areas we need to improve on,” he said.
The report also found the following:
- Rates of people experiencing pregnancy complications grew from 2014 data of 168.4 per 1,000 to 196 per 1,000 in 2017, or a 16.4% increase. Childbirth complications increased by 14.2%, from 14.8 per 1,000 to 16.9 per 1,000.
- Rates of pregnancy and childbirth complications including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, cardiomyopathy, embolism and sepsis increased by double digits between 2014 and 2018.
- Diagnosis of postpartum depression increased by 28.5% between 2014 and 2018 in people aged 18 to 44.
- Of the survey respondents, 26% reported not being screened or didn’t know if they were screened for postpartum depression and 14% did not not receive prenatal care within the first trimester of their pregnancy.
- Those who experience complications during pregnancy are twice as likely to have childbirth complications.
- Anxiety is the leading preexisting behavioral health condition identified in those diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Also discussed in the webinar was the impact of COVID-19 on maternal health care. Based on a separate April 2020 survey, 25% of birthing parents skipped prenatal appointments, 28% delivered at a different hospital than they originally planned, 15% shifted to a home birth and 20% missed a postnatal appointment because of shelter-in-place restrictions.
Dr. Tim Gutshall, chief medical officer at Wellmark, addressed audience questions about vaccines and recommended that those who are pregnant and are considered high-risk should get the vaccine. He said that more than 30,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated, and that currently there’s no evidence that there are any issues in regard to safety in pregnancy. Gutshall also repeated information from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which stated that there should not be any interruption or avoidance of vaccines to those who are pregnant and desire them.
“The important thing to understand is the fact that the COVID vaccine cannot cause any impact on the DNA of a woman or the fetus intrauterine at this time, because that’s just not the way vaccines work.”
He urged that those who do have questions or concerns should communicate with their health care providers.