By Antonia Ehlers
In the U.S., Black women have three times the maternal mortality rate of white women – the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized nations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the reasons for this disparity are complex and include variation in health care quality, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.
During Black Maternal Health Week, it is important to recognize that there are significant racial disparities when it comes to maternal deaths. Black families are more likely to see mothers and babies die during childbirth. Black women also have more pregnancy-related complications.
“We have a responsibility to help address Black mothers’ disproportionate risk of injury and death.”
“It’s important to acknowledge that Black families – regardless of income, education level or age of the mother – still are more likely to die during childbirth,” said Kaiser Permanente Richmond Ob-Gyn Carla Wicks, MD. “We must acknowledge the forces at play that begin before childbirth, as well as the structural, broader contributing factors.”
At Kaiser Permanente, health care providers are constantly striving to provide culturally-sensitive care to their patients, which is essential to improving Black maternal health. This includes understanding and addressing the social determinants of health that may contribute to health disparities, such as low income and access to healthy food. Kaiser Permanente is also committed to honoring Black mothers’ autonomy to speak for themselves and make decisions about their own care.
“At Kaiser Permanente – and as a provider who works with the Black community – what we can do is acknowledge the existing disparities and the additional burdens Black families face,” said Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center Physician Nailah Thompson, MD. “We also factor in the social determinants affecting the health of our communities as we provide culturally-humble, culturally-respectful care.”
Wicks and Thompson agree that being at one’s best health pre-pregnancy is vital to a healthy pregnancy. Mothers-to-be can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications by eating clean, hydrating, getting plenty of sleep, and knowing what their health conditions are prior to getting pregnant.
“We have a responsibility to help address Black mothers’ disproportionate risk of injury and death,” Wicks said. “We must focus on actionable steps to dismantle the racial inequities caused by variations in health care quality, implicit bias and structural racism. Every person deserves a fair opportunity for optimal health. We can and must do better in our society… and it starts with each of us committing to advancing equity and justice for all.”
This article was submitted for publication by Kaiser Permanente.