A healthy pregnancy: Bridging the disparity gap in Black maternal health

Women's Health
Smiling mom standing at home with her baby son in her arms

The joy of expecting a new baby can often be tempered by the awareness of the disparities in Black maternal health. This disparity gap refers to the alarming statistics that show Black mothers in the U.S. are more likely to face pregnancy complications, receive subpar care and ultimately suffer from higher mortality rates than their white counterparts. But there are steps you can take to advocate for yourself and your unborn baby.

Understanding the disparity gap in Black maternal health

The disparities in Black maternal health are deeply rooted and multi-layered. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that Black mothers are three to four times more susceptible to death from pregnancy-related complications than white mothers. Black women are also one of the most under-treated groups for depression in the U.S.

"The underlying reasons behind these statistics are vast and complex, ranging from socio-economic circumstances to access to quality medical care," says Licette Almonte, MD, a OB/GYN at Main Line Health.

Underlying racial bias within the health care system also plays a significant role, often leading to Black mothers receiving inadequate care. This multi-dimensional problem calls for equally comprehensive solutions. Understanding the breadth and depth of these disparities is the first step toward developing interventions that can bridge this alarming gap.

Navigating pregnancy complications and fears

For Black women 25 and older, pregnancy-related mortality is about four times higher than it is for white women of similar ages. So it's understandable that this time can bring a range of anxieties and apprehensions, particularly due to the potential for complications.

"The key is to arm yourself with knowledge about your pregnancy and to foster a transparent line of communication with your health care providers," says Dr. Almonte.

One helpful tip is to prepare a list of your worries and concerns, and bring them up in your discussions with your health care provider. There's no such thing as a silly question when it comes to your well-being and that of your baby, and establishing trust and open communication with your health care provider is an essential step in your pregnancy.

It's also crucial to trust your instincts. You should feel comfortable discussing your concerns, ideas and choices for your pregnancy and delivery. If you don't feel comfortable and are thinking about seeking a second opinion, don't hesitate. By proactively managing your fears and possible complications, you can alleviate some of the anxiety that can accompany pregnancy.

Advocating for change in maternal health policies

Systemic reform is the bedrock for closing the disparity gap in Black maternal health. This implies lobbying for regulations that advocate for fair access to high-quality health care, combating racial prejudice in health care and calling for extensive research on Black maternal health.

"Policy changes aimed at rectifying these disparities could involve implementing implicit bias training for health care providers or increasing funding for hospitals serving disadvantaged communities," says Dr. Almonte. "As constituents and community members, it's important to raise awareness about these disparities, and hold our policymakers accountable for creating and implementing such changes."

Involvement can also come in the form of supporting candidates who prioritize maternal health equity, engaging with local community leaders about these issues or even sharing your experiences and insights to educate others. The process of change is incremental and requires persistent advocacy, but every step brings us closer to a world where all mothers, regardless of race, receive the care they deserve during pregnancy.

The importance of community support

Embracing community support can significantly bolster an expecting mother's journey.

"It isn’t uncommon for moms-to-be to have a myriad of concerns and questions regarding what they can expect and whether or not they can handle all that the motherhood journey will entail. Community psychotherapy support groups provide a welcoming space to voice such concerns and a holding space for moms to process the plethora of emotions that arise. Women can support one another by learning from others who have walked the same path and courageously made it through," says Chimere G. Holmes, MA, MSEd, LPC, a psychotherapist at Main Line Health’s Women’s Emotional Wellness Center.

Local community organizations are an excellent resource too, often hosting free prenatal classes that provide valuable information about pregnancy, labor and postnatal care. These organizations might also provide support for breastfeeding and postpartum recovery and making them an essential part of your pregnancy journey.

Connection with your community can also alleviate feelings of isolation or overwhelm that can come with pregnancy, especially given the profound changes both physically and emotionally. This shared connection can be a source of comfort, reducing stress levels and enhancing your overall well-being during this significant life stage.

Prioritizing mental health

The wellness of your mind plays a substantial role in the overall pregnancy journey. Stress, anxiety and depression are not uncommon during pregnancy, and it's vital to address these feelings promptly and effectively. Professionals in mental health can provide beneficial support and strategies for managing these emotions. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help, but a step towards strength and resilience.

And don't underestimate the power self-care can have on your mental wellbeing. Activities like mindful meditation, yoga, reading or simply taking a quiet moment for yourself can offer respite from the stressors of pregnancy. Remember that your mental health is intrinsically linked to your physical health. Ensuring adequate rest, a nutritious diet and regular physical activity can contribute to a healthier mental state.

Emotional well-being is a cornerstone of a healthy pregnancy and shouldn't be overlooked. Actively seeking support, utilizing self-care practices and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly contribute to bridging the disparity gap in Black maternal health. Your mental health matters and deserves attention and care.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with an OB/GYN provider
Learn more about maternity care at Main Line Health
Learn about After Baby Connections (ABC): Post-baby adjustment group
Learn about The BIPOC Sisters’ Circle group