Mom Dies Hours After Birth Due to Rare Pregnancy Complication

hospital baby bed
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A rare but fatal pregnancy complication is getting a lot of attention this week. Natalie Cook had given birth just four hours earlier when the 35-year-old suffered a sudden heart attack. Doctors blamed her baby's amniotic fluid, which apparently caused an allergic reaction.

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The tragedy happened in July 2014, but Natalie's husband Tim has just recently started speaking out about it. He's trying to spread awareness of amniotic fluid embolism (AFE) or anaphylactoid syndrome of pregnancy, the condition that took Natalie's life shortly after the birth of their daughter Chloe, who is now 2.

If you're pregnant right now, this is the sort of news that can make you anxious about delivery. So what's the deal?

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Doctors aren't 100 percent clear on what happens or why it can cause a mom's health to devolve so rapidly, but typically AFE is characterized by amniotic fluid leaking into a mom's bloodstream -- usually through the placental bed, where the placenta is attached to the wall of a woman's uterus. Some moms suffer minor complications, while others suffer a heart attack and death like Natalie. Unfortunately doctors haven't yet developed interventions that significantly improve outcomes for moms.

But while all of this is unsettling, there is a big piece of the puzzle that expectant moms should keep in mind: AFE is very, very rare.  

Statistics are so varied that reports say the condition happens in about 1 out of every 8,000 to 1 out of every 80,000 births in America. That's a huge difference! There's no clear link to what type of birth women have either -- 19 percent of AFE cases occurred during a C-section vs. 11 percent during a vaginal birth, while the majority occur earlier during labor.

Since Natalie's death, her husband has started a company called Natalie Cook Clothing, where he produces and sells baby clothes to raise money for the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation.

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Natalie Cook's death is a heartbreaking tragedy, but it's important to remember the statistics. The likelihood of complications involving AFE is extremely low for most women, but if you're worried, it certainly wouldn't hurt to ask your ob-gyn or midwife for more information.

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