1 in 5 Pregnant Women Experience Mistreatment From Medical Staff

4 min read

A recent 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 20% of women surveyed endured medical mistreatment during pregnancy and delivery.

The CDC gathered data for the report from 2,402 women from diverse economic, racial, and geographical backgrounds.

Overall, the survey suggests that mistreatment and discrimination are common in reproductive health care, with higher rates seen in certain racial groups.

Women of color, as well as those without insurance or with public insurance, reported the highest levels of mistreatment.

Mistreatment during pregnancy can have serious consequences, potentially putting both mothers and their babies at risk for harm.

For example, an untreated infection in the mother could be passed to the newborn. Neonatal infections are a cause of cerebral palsy, which can lead to lifelong, severe disabilities.

If your baby was injured due to mistreatment during pregnancy or delivery, reach out to the Birth Injury Justice Center. Our compassionate labor and delivery nurses are here to provide the support and answers you need.

Call or chat with us now.

Nurse Beth Carter

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What Is Considered Medical Mistreatment During Pregnancy?

Mistreatment in maternity care is different from abuse, but both are serious issues.

Abuse in a medical setting may involve physical, sexual, or verbal harm. It is sometimes considered medical negligence if it breaches professional standards of care.

Mistreatment often involves disrespecting the patient’s needs, leading to unmet medical care, which can harm both the mother and baby.

The forms of mistreatment reported in the CDC survey include:

  • Discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, weight, income, or type of insurance
  • Not having privacy respected
  • Requests for help going unanswered
  • Threats of denying treatment
  • Unwanted medical procedures forced on patient
  • Verbal abuse, such as shouting or scolding by health care staff

Race and Insurance: Key Factors in Pregnancy Care Mistreatment

The two main factors affecting mistreatment that researchers revealed in the CDC survey were race and insurance coverage.

Out of all women surveyed, 1 in 5 reported experiencing mistreatment during maternity care.

Here is the breakdown by race among those who reported mistreatment:

  • Black: 30%
  • Hispanic: 29%
  • Multiracial: 27%
  • White: 19%
  • American Indian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 18%
  • Asian: 15%

Regarding insurance coverage, the CDC found distinct differences in treatment experiences.

Women with no insurance reported the highest level of mistreatment, at 28%, followed closely by those with public insurance, like Medicaid, at 26%.

In contrast, women with private insurance experienced the lowest rate of mistreatment, making up 16% of that group.

Forms of Medical Mistreatment Experienced by Pregnant Women

Providing quality care during pregnancy, delivery, and after childbirth is essential not only for ensuring women receive the care they deserve but also for preventing negative health outcomes.

Here are ways medical mistreatment can affect women and their family members.


Discrimination during pregnancy care has been linked to various negative health outcomes and disparities.

Did you know

A 2022 BMJ Global Health study analyzed over 13,000 records and discovered a clear link between racial discrimination in maternity care and adverse pregnancy outcomes. This includes a higher death rate of mothers during childbirth among Black and Hispanic women.

Women surveyed by the CDC who reported experiencing discrimination at the hands of their health care providers said the behavior caused them to not ask certain questions or report concerns.

The reasons they cited for not reporting included:

  • Believing they were overreacting or “making a big deal” out of their situation
  • Embarrassment about their concerns
  • Fear of being labeled as a difficult patient
  • Feeling rushed or dismissed by their health care provider
  • Lack of confidence in their own concerns
  • Talked out of reporting by friends or family

This lack of trust and communication can be dangerous, potentially escalating to negligence or even medical malpractice if the mother or baby suffers from harm that could have been prevented with proper care.

Ignored Requests for Medical Help

Women who ask for medical help but don’t receive it may experience pregnancy-related complications, which can often lead to preventable birth injuries.

If a doctor’s lack of respect or poor communication affects a woman’s decisions about her health, she might not seek the necessary help. This can result in unaddressed medical conditions.

For example, many women surveyed with symptoms they wanted addressed during pregnancy chose not to report the symptoms to their midwives or obstetricians.

Various reasons stopped them from disclosing issues, including the fear of not being taken seriously.

During pregnancy and childbirth, this can cause serious problems like untreated maternal infections, injuries, difficulties with breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and, in severe cases, the death of the mother.

Threats or Withholding Treatment

Denying or threatening to withhold treatment is a serious issue in maternity care. It can unfairly pressure a woman into accepting treatments she’s not comfortable with.

Such threats are a form of emotional abuse, which can deeply affect mental health. The National Network to End Domestic Violence explains that emotional abuse can lead to anxiety, confusion, and feelings of guilt or shame.

Violating Privacy

Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum (the period after giving birth) are times when a woman is particularly vulnerable. It’s crucial that her physical privacy is respected.

A woman who has her physical privacy infringed on during maternity care or postpartum care may feel unsafe returning to the same physician.

If the experience is particularly harrowing, she may even develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), causing her to avoid medical care, which could lead to potentially adverse health effects.

What to Look for in Quality Maternity Care Providers

If you are pregnant and looking for a maternity care provider, be sure to research the quality of care at all potential facilities before making your decision.

High-quality maternity care providers should:

  1. Work in a facility that encourages respect for patients
  2. Employ a diverse staff with training in recognizing bias and avoiding stigma
  3. Strive to provide a high standard of health care for all women equally
  4. Ensure all patients feel heard and respected

Legal Help for Medical Mistreatment During Pregnancy

As federal data shows, the U.S. has a long way to go in providing high-quality, discrimination-free treatment for all pregnant and postpartum women.

Mistreatment in health care can lead to serious problems, sometimes resulting in medical malpractice.

If you were mistreated during pregnancy or childbirth, don’t stay silent. Your voice can make a difference. By speaking out, you help expose and combat health care inequalities tied to race and insurance coverage.

The Birth Injury Justice Center is here to provide support and guidance and connect you with the help you need. Call us at (800) 914-1562 or fill out this form to find out if we can help.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( 2023, August 22). One in 5 women reported mistreatment while receiving maternity care. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2023/s0822-vs-maternity-mistreatment.html
  3. Han, X., et al. (2015, July). Reports of insurance-based discrimination in health care and its association with access to care. American journal of public health, 105 Suppl 3(Suppl 3), S517–S525. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302668
  4. Lothian, J.A. (2019, October 1). The continued mistreatment of women during pregnancy and childbirth. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 28(4), 183–185.Retrieved November 29, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.28.4.183
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  6. National Network to End Domestic Violence. (2021, September 8). Emotional and psychological abuse. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from https://www.womenslaw.org/about-abuse/forms-abuse/emotional-and-psychological-abuse#:~:text=Emotional%20and%20psychological%20abuse%20can%20have%20severe%20short%2D%20and%20long,compliance%2C%20powerlessness%2C%20and%20more
  7. van Daalen, et al. (2022, June 27). Racial discrimination and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ global health, 7(8), e009227. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2022-009227