Equity in Motherhood: Confronting Disparities in Black Maternal Wellne

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According to findings released in April 2023, Black women are 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. That results in 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births for Black women.

It’s essential to investigate the root causes to address these discrepancies effectively. Variations in healthcare quality, underlying chronic conditions such as bleeding disorders, diabetes, and heart disease, along with structural racism and implicit bias, collectively contribute to the higher maternal mortality rates among Black women. Awareness of these factors is a crucial step toward dismantling the systemic barriers that disproportionately affect maternal outcomes for Black women.

While severe maternal morbidity (SMM) rates have been increasing among all women, the statistics are disproportioned for women of color. SMM measures unexpected outcomes from labor and delivery with significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorizes SMM by 21 “indicators.”

Black communities have a 63% higher rate of SMM than white women. Some examples of conditions classified under severe maternal morbidity include:

Hemorrhage: Excessive bleeding during pregnancy, childbirth, or the postpartum period can lead to severe maternal morbidity.

Hypertensive disorders: Conditions such as preeclampsia and eclampsia, characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy, can pose significant risks to maternal health.

Severe infection: Infections that become severe and require extensive medical intervention can contribute to SMM.

Cardiomyopathy: A condition where the heart becomes weakened, impacting its ability to pump blood effectively, can occur during or after pregnancy.

Amniotic fluid embolism: A rare but severe condition where amniotic fluid or other debris enters the maternal bloodstream, leading to serious complications.

Organ failure: Severe complications that result in the failure of one or more organ systems, such as liver, kidney, or respiratory failure.

Monitoring and addressing severe maternal morbidity are crucial aspects of maternal healthcare – especially for Black and Brown women. Postpartum Peace of Mind, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that centers the experiences, health, education and safety of postpartum Black, Brown, and Indigenous women, shared with us, “Research is showing that Black and Brown women are dying of perinatal complications at a higher rate versus their counterparts. Women need to know what hypertensive disorders and perinatal complications look like postpartum.”

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