Respectful, quality care can prevent pregnancy-related deaths among Black women
Each year in the United States, hundreds of people die during pregnancy or in the year after. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women — and 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable. Black Maternal Health Week, April 11-17, aims to inspire action in support of Black-led maternal health initiatives and encourages activists, scholars and researchers to come together to address this pressing public health issue. USC experts are available for comment.
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Access to the full scope of women’s health care is essential
“A lack of access to basic women’s health care jeopardizes the health of many pregnant people, particularly people of color. Women of color are two to three times more likely to experience maternal mortality than other groups, which is likely linked to the documented barriers to health care they already face, including lack of access to care, low socioeconomic status, provider bias,” said Nicole Mitchell, an OB/GYN with Keck Medicine of USC.
“Providing women’s health care to these patients, many of whom live in rural communities or states with little to no access to this type of care, is imperative to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality, and to protect their personal agency to decide what is best for their health and well-being.”
Mitchell’s academic and research interests include increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented providers in OB/GYN and addressing healthcare disparities that exist among Black, LatinX and transgender patient populations.
Contact: Gabriella.Robison@med.usc.edu or 626-824-7490
Experts paint a sobering picture of maternal health in the U.S. and globally
Black women are about three times more likely to experience pregnancy-related deaths than White women — deaths of which the majority are preventable, according to demographer and global health expert Emily Smith-Greenaway.
“Although this week is focused on the state of Black women’s health here in the U.S., in many ways, the racial disparities that we see in our country offer a snapshot of what we see on the global stage: due to structural inequalities, colonial legacies, and the pernicious effects of racism, Black women worldwide disproportionately experience poorer reproductive health outcomes—leading them to be more likely to experience maternal morbidity and mortality. And these reproductive inequalities have intergenerational effects: Black children–from the time of birth–experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality,” she said.
“And although we typically think of these inequalities from an individual risk perspective—emphasizing how disparate health outcomes disproportionately burden Black mothers and their children, in my research I seek to emphasize that health disparities not only are reflections of the social and economic inequalities that define our globe, but may also have a hand in perpetuating them.”
Smith-Greenaway is an associate professor of sociology and spatial sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her recent work analyzes the influence of mortality conditions on family systems, the impact of child loss on family dynamics, and the consequences of community mortality conditions for women’s fertility.
Social support, quality care are key to addressing disparities in Black maternal health
“Medical racism is a significant concern during pregnancy: many Black mothers report that their symptoms are overlooked or minimized by doctors and nurses and may be understandably reluctant to interact with prenatal care providers as a result. The evidence suggests that pregnancy progresses best when mothers get high quality social support from their medical care team as well as from their family and community networks,” said Darby Saxbe, an associate professor of psychology at USC Dornsife.
“Stress can also contribute to poor pregnancy and birth outcomes. Social support can help to buffer stress and regulate profiles of stress hormones like cortisol. Making sure that mothers feel well-supported and that they are receiving high quality, culturally competent, and respectful care is an important step towards reducing maternal perinatal health disparities.”
Saxbe is an expert on the transition to parenthood, the neurobiology of parenting, stress and coping within families, fathers, and the division of household labor.