Maternal health an ongoing issue for Black women

Photo courtesy: Center for Reproductive Rights.
Raising Awareness: Black Maternal Health Week

National Black Maternal Health Week, observed from April 11–17 each year, serves as a poignant reminder of the stark realities faced by black women during childbirth in the United States. 

While childbirth is often portrayed as a joyous and celebratory occasion, for many Black women, it can be marred by systemic injustices and disparities in healthcare. 

This annual observance not only highlights these disparities but also advocates for change and equity in maternal healthcare. One of the most pressing issues surrounding Black maternal health is the lack of proper care and support that Black women receive during childbirth. 

Studies have shown that Black women are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth compared to their white counterparts. Despite advances in medical technology and healthcare practices, black women continue to face higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are more have unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery with serious short- or long-term health consequences. Every pregnancy-related death is tragic, especially because more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable.

The discussions surrounding National Black Maternal Health Week, Kiahra Wood, a second-year Health Science Pre-Physical Therapy student at Florida A&M University (FAMU), emphasized the crucial role of representation in advocating for equity and justice. 

“One word, ‘Representation.’ Representation ensures that diverse voices, experiences, and perspectives are seen and heard. By advocating for equitable representation in all spheres of society, marginalized groups can challenge systems of oppression and work towards a more just and inclusive society,” Wood said.

One of the key factors contributing to these disparities is the pervasive racial bias within the healthcare system. Black women often encounter stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination from healthcare providers, which can lead to substandard care and delayed treatment. Studies have shown that black patients, including pregnant women, are less likely to be taken seriously by medical professionals, resulting in misdiagnosis or neglect of their symptoms.

Lequitha Cooper, registered nurse, professional for maternal newborn health at Mercy School of Nursing, emphasized the multifaceted impact of racism on healthcare delivery and access for Black pregnant individuals, underscoring the urgent need for systemic change. 

“Racism intersects with healthcare delivery and access for Black pregnant individuals in several ways, contributing to disparities in maternal health outcomes. These include higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality among Black women compared to white women. Specific ways in which racism affects healthcare for Black pregnant individuals include implicit bias, lack of culturally competent care, access to care, stress and health outcomes and structural inequities,” Cooper said. 

Limited access to essential healthcare services and resources further perpetuates disparities in maternal health, leaving many black women vulnerable and underserved.

Cooper shared her professional expertise and potential strategies to help Black women throughout their pregnancies. 

“In my experience, a few strategies I find effective are utilizing African American providers and services especially Black Women Doctors and Practitioners. More patient education and empowerment provided to black pregnant women and offering postpartum care and support services,” Cooper shared. 

By acknowledging and addressing the systemic injustices and disparities faced by black women during childbirth, we can strive towards creating a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system that ensures all individuals receive the quality care and support they deserve.