Black mothers and babies continue to disproportionately represent the number of maternal and infant deaths in the United States. Over the past few years, while more attention has been given to this issue, very little has changed. Black women are still three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause compared to White women and Black babies are twice as likely to die.
We know that these outcomes are not eradicated based on a Black woman’s income, education, age, marital status, or when they start prenatal care. Access to prenatal care does not mean access to quality, culturally appropriate prenatal care. This maternal health crisis is due to many compounding factors and social determinants of health, which are societal and systemic issues, all rooted in implicit bias and overt racism. The well-being of a Black mother ultimately affects the entire trajectory of her children and family’s health, as well as the overall community.
Black Maternal Health Week takes place every year from April 11-17. It is designated to bring awareness to the issues of the Black maternal health crisis, to advocate for the success and survival of Black mothers, and to push for research and solutions to the problems that Black mothers face. It gives us all an opportunity to look at the ways in which we are centering and elevating the voices of Black mothers in finding solutions to the problems they face and how to best address them. It is important for those of us who work directly with Black mothers to keep them safe and supported by working to address all of their needs, which could include any societal issue from helping them to secure appropriate food, housing, or employment, to assist them in recognizing and addressing institutional bias and inequities in their health care by advocating for themselves appropriately and effectively in order to get the care they deserve.
This week allows Black mothers to share their success stories, tools and mechanisms they use to stay healthy, and tips on how to navigate difficult experiences and situations for their mental, emotional and physical well-being. The lived experiences of Black women are valuable and need to be heard.
Advocates and experts across the state testified at a public hearing in support of SB 1, Section 10, which would define the doula profession. Title protection will assist with solidifying to others who doulas are, what they do, and the value that they can bring to families across the state. “When you improve the health of Black women, you improve the health of communities. When you improve the health of Black women, you improve the health of all women,” said Dr. Lucinda Canty, CN.M., Certified Nurse-Midwife.
Black women want information about how they can care for themselves during pregnancy, how to prepare for childbirth, and what to expect during the postpartum period. They want to know the possible complications that can occur and who they contact if they have concerns. Black women want to be listened to and understood. They want to have strong positive relationships with healthcare providers and receive culturally appropriate care. Black women want their mental health evaluated and supported since pregnancy takes a toll on the body mentally and physically. Black women want to be trusted that they understand what is happening to their bodies.
Doulas can address the needs of all women, but particularly the needs of Black women. They provide health education and mental health support to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Doulas can strengthen the relationship with health care providers and help women navigate the healthcare system. Increasing access to racially concordant doulas should be leveraged to ensure that Black women have appropriate peer support that has been shown to result in better birth outcomes.
Women who utilize doulas are less likely to experience a complication during birth, have a cesarean birth, or have a low-birth-weight baby and have increased rates of initiating breastfeeding. During pregnancy, Black women need someone they feel comfortable talking to, especially someone who understands the challenges they experience.
The problems that affect Black mothers affect us all. Use Black Maternal Health Week as a way to educate yourself and understand the challenges that Black birthing women experience. We can all do something. Together, we all can make a difference.
SciHonor Devotion, eCID, CLC, is founder of Earth’s Natural Touch: Birth Care & Beyond and an Interdisciplinary Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Childbirth Educator, Maternal Child Health Specialist, Doula Trainer, and Midwifery Student based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She can be reached by email here.
Dr. Lucinda Canty, CN.M., is a Certified Nurse-Midwife, Researcher, Maternal Health Consultant, and an Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Saint Joseph. She can be reached by email here.
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