The Black Maternal Health Crisis is Real, Here’s What We Can Do About It

By Keisha Daniels,
MetroPlusHealth Manager, Brand
Partnerships & Experiential Marketing

Black communities have long been disproportionately affected by severe health challenges. One of the most alarming is the Black maternal mortality crisis. Black mothers are two-to-three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.

We know the disparities that face Black birthing parents are not solitary incidents, but a result of generations of systemic racism. To improve the Black maternal health crisis in America, we need to address a broad range of areas including access to health care, nutrition and paid leave. There are a few steps we can take today to improve outcomes.

Engage in Conversations Before the Positive Result

First, and before starting the process of getting pregnant, it is recommended that intended birthing parents have a preconception checkup. Having early discussions about pregnancy can help ease concerns and initiate the vetting process of a birthing team. During these discussions, providers should get a sense of medical conditions and social factors that may impact the process such as high blood pressure, depression, and imbalanced nutrition. An informed patient is one that can most effectively advocate for themselves and their baby. This early knowledge can help mitigate issues further down the road.

Ongoing Education is Key

Although the birthing process has evolved and improved due to medical and technological advances, circumstances continue to exist that can adversely impact the experiences of birthing parents. On top of the systemic racism that has created vast health disparities within Black communities, the pandemic further exacerbated the issue. According to the United States Government Accountability Office’s analysis of CDC data, Black (not Hispanic or Latina) women experienced maternal death at a rate more than 2.5 times higher during the pandemic. Providers should seek ongoing education on the factors that impact severe adverse maternal outcomes (SAMO) for patients of color to have necessary conversations early and often to prevent complications like eclampsia, blood transfusion, hysterectomy, or ICU admission. Healthcare providers who have increased awareness of social factors impacting patients such as unstable housing, transportation access and food insecurity, can improve the quality of their birthing and early parenting experience.

A Diversified Care Team Makes a Difference

Where possible, a diverse informed health care team can serve as a remedy for addressing the racial and ethnic disparities that put Black birthing parents at higher risks of severe adverse maternal outcomes. Many expecting parents find solace in a team that looks like them, but even if this is not possible—a birthing parent should select providers whom they are comfortable advocating for themselves with. According to a recent study by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, giving birth in states with the highest nurse diversity was associated with a 20% reduced risk of SAMO for Black mothers.

Another element includes having providers who speak diverse languages. At MetroPlusHealth, we reflect the communities that we serve and speak more than 40 languages. Finding a provider that speaks your native language can alleviate confusion during unexpected emergencies.

Developing an ongoing health care and social support system that can aid before, during, and after pregnancy may help mitigate potential pregnancy-related complications such as postpartum depression. When selecting a team, birthing parents should consider the type of experience they seek and their safety. Whether the team includes an OB/GYN, midwife or other alternatives, the birthing parent and their designated support person should feel comfortable working with them.

We know there is more to be done across the industry to achieve equitable health care, but these actionable steps can help many Black birthing parents who have no time to wait for new policies and legislation. Learn more about MetroPlusHealth at www.metroplus.org.

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