Black Maternal Mortality: What We Can Do About It
black maternal mortality

By now, we’ve all heard about the overwhelming disparity for Black women as it relates to motherhood. Not only are Black women two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,)  but this disparity increases with age. Furthermore, most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. So, what’s happening? 

Because we know these levels do not change for education or socioeconomic status, we know that this is a far more complex issue than access to proper medical care. This is an issue of listening to, trusting and respecting Black people and their feelings, thoughts and pain. According to the CDC, hospitals can take steps to change these statistics for the better by addressing their own implicit bias, but also by implementing protocols that improve the quality of our care. Thankfully, we now have many more Black women and people entering into these healthcare spaces to care for us and make sure we’re represented and heard.

But oftentimes, it’s not enough to wait for the systems to catch up. Unfortunately, Black people are all too used to being their own advocates and this disparity calls for more of the same. Here are some steps you can take as a Black person hoping to have a healthy pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience:

  • Take time to find a healthcare provider that works for and with you
    • This should happen in the beginning of your pregnancy. You don’t want to wait until you give birth to advocate for yourself. By the time you’re in labor, you want to know that you have a team that’s on your side. Remember your agency. You hold the power and you matter.
  • Don’t settle
    • If a healthcare provider isn’t making you feel 100% confident that your ideas, feelings and concerns will be supported, maybe it’s time to find a new one. Don’t be afraid to leave any provider who doesn’t make you feel safe. This may mean finding a Black/POC healthcare provider who can deeply understand your concerns or finding someone you truly trust and feel is with you on this journey.
  • Hire a doula
    • Doulas can help provide you with the tools, resources and proper questions to ask your healthcare provider to ensure you’re getting the best care possible. The more people on your team, the better.
  • Consider all of your options
    • What if your perfectly-planned home birth turns into a hospital birth or an emergency Cesarean? Have a plan in place for each scenario and who you will want to assist you every step of the way.  
  • Have your partner or family member be your advocate
    • Your partner or person you choose as your advocate should be just that. You don’t have to do it all on your own. This person should attend as many appointments with you as possible, get familiar with your healthcare providers and be there to advocate for you and your wishes throughout your pregnancy and during your labor. Advocates: Remember that birth and parenthood isn’t all about the baby. There’s a human who just went through a life-changing experience who needs just as much attention and care.

On a national scale, we need to make a huge change to close this gap and lower pregnancy-related mortality rates overall. How can you help in these efforts?

  • Support Black doulas, midwives and healthcare professionals
  • Focus on mental health, as well as physical. Remain focused and check in on the parent’s mental health during pregnancy and the postpartum period (the year following birth.)
  • Listen to birthing people and their concerns and help them find solutions, whether you’re a friend, advocate or healthcare professional.

One of the most important things we can all do is recognize that while lowering mortality rates is the immediate goal, there’s a larger goal of reducing bias and racism in our healthcare system as a whole, and we must all work together to achieve that.