In comparison to white women, Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy and during childbirth. Babies of Black women are more likely to die before their first birthday. What is causing this and what can be done to change this course? Read on for more information on Black maternal health and pregnancy and what can be done to improve it.
Black maternal health disparities
Research shows that Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy that white women are. This is despite any differences in socio-economic statues, physical condition, or education. Black women are two to three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. Additionally, in the US, two Black women die every day from childbirth complications. The CDC states that 60% of those deaths are preventable. Babies born to Black mothers in the US are more likely to die before their first birthday than those babies born to white mothers. Though these issues clearly constitute a health crisis, Black women and their children have suffered racial disparities within the health care system for a long time.
Causes of Black maternal health disparities
Racial bias in the health care system has been named the main cause of these health disparities. Implicit bias has been found in in patient-provider relationships. This leads to lower quality health care for minorities and distrust in health care providers and systems. Pregnant patients who sense implicit bias from their providers often feel less understood and less welcome, and are more likely to miss appointments.
Initially, Black women are sicker on average compared to white women when they become pregnant. This is a result of decades of systemic and structural inequalities that make it more difficult for Black women to stay healthy. Black women may face barriers to staying healthy that involves conditions of their environments. These barriers to health include finding safe and clean housing, buying fresh food, access to job and educational opportunities, access to health care, transportation options, public safety, social support, and more. Racism is pervasive in the US and long impacted the health of Black women.
Improving Black maternal health
Non-black physicians and health care providers need education on these health disparities. These professionals also need training to examine conscious and unconscious biases that result in unequal patient treatment. Research shows that Black people and Black women have better outcomes when their health care providers are also Black. Thus, having more Black doctors can lead to improved Black maternal health as well. Recent legislation (the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021) looks to address racial disparities for Black mothers and provide access to comprehensive health care for all pregnant women and mothers.
Doulas may be an effective way to increase Black maternal health outcomes. A doula is “a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth,” according to the American Pregnancy Association. Doulas don’t deliver babies or give medicine, but advocate for and support the mother before, during, and after childbirth. The use of a doula increases a mother’s safety and health and helps the healthcare team better understand the mother’s pain during childbirth. Some Medicaid programs are even starting to include doulas with their health care offerings.
Nathalie Walton aims to help address the racial disparities by providing access to mindfulness training and practice through her app, Expectful. This app feature meditations for Black mothers by Black mothers. Mindfulness can help lessen depression during pregnancy, reduce depression early postpartum, and can lead to less pain during labor. Mindfulness can help reduce stress overall. Stress affects development of fetal brains but also can affect fertility.
There are a variety of ways to address the health disparities in Black maternal health during pregnancy and childbirth. Every mother and child deserve the best possible health care available. Increasing awareness of these issues and advocating for equal care for all women is essential to engaging in this work.
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Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.