Every mother deserves to see their babies grow up. Every child deserves to have their mother beside them as they grow. Yet the United States is worst for maternal mortality rates among developed nations, according to the CDC. Black women are 3-4 times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy complications or childbirth.
How can we make maternal outcomes better for women in this country?
Using a new standardized data system implemented in January of this year to track maternal mortality rates, one thing is clear: Black women are dying at a higher rate than white women and Hispanic women in this country. Black women are 2.5-3 times more likely to die from complications from pregnancy or childbirth (37.1 per 100,000 live births). This is true across all demographics – it does not matter how educated the mother is, how much money she makes, and how much access to health care she has. The mother’s outcomes are even worse at hospitals that serve low-income areas.
Researchers are not completely sure why there is such a disparity. The most likely cause is the systemic racism and institutional racism throughout our society, which pervades all aspects of women’s lives, and specifically the effect racism has on healthcare for Black people. In addition, Black people have an increased susceptibility to certain conditions like hypertension and obesity, which can be linked to the fact that unhealthy food options cost less than healthy food in this country, and that most black neighborhoods do not have direct access to full grocery stores, creating a “food desert.”
The United States overall has a high infant mortality rate – babies born in the United States having a 76% higher risk of dying, compared to babies in other developed countries. Black infant mortality rate is 11.4 per 1000 live births. Most pregnancy-related deaths can be prevented, and significant racial/ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related mortality need to be addressed. Some of these deaths could be prevented with more support for breastfeeding in Black communities. What do all of these statistics and data mean to the average person?
What can anyone do to help make things better?
Support your black friends and listen when they tell you that something is not right. Check-in on your friends who are newly postpartum to see how they are doing, and believe them when they say they are not well, Help them locate resources that they may not be aware of. Support organizations that are fighting these statistics with their grassroots efforts. At work, speak up against racism, especially if it could affect the life of a mother.
Most importantly, ask questions of people who think this is okay, and let them know that it is not acceptable.