Black Maternal Health Week — A Closer Look

“Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!”

That’s the theme of this year’s annual celebration of Black Maternal Health Week. A positive message for sure, even as the rate of mortality for black women continues to rise in the country. 

Why does it sometimes feel like not enough has changed when it comes to this issue? It’s probably because there needs to be more doing and less talking.

Having said that, one must be empowered by knowledge and truth to know the best strategy to make a difference in what they’re fighting for. 

In this article, we’ll explore the reality of being a pregnant or new black mother in the United States and the disparities we experience which, rather than incite joy and excitement, impose worry and compel fear.

What Is The Purpose Of Black Maternal Health Week?

Black Maternal Health Week exists to build awareness and encourage activism to reduce deaths, unfair practices, and discrimination black women and birthing people face before, during, and after giving birth. 

It encompasses many of the ideals of the reproductive and birth justice movements such as increased use of midwives and doulas, mindful healing, breastfeeding, and the push for justice and birthing care restoration in the medical system. 

This week, many women will share their stories to help others feel and visualize what black, colored, and indigenous women go through when it comes to maternal health.

Stories are crucial in raising awareness because, sometimes, numbers aren’t enough.

However, they still paint a pretty clear picture.

Maternal Health By The Numbers

Why is the state of black maternal health in the US considered a crisis? 

Because, according to the CDC and several other scientific research bodies, “Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.”

Institutional racism has a strong hold on the medical and hospital industry, as we previously outlined here.

Implicit bias, economic differences, and unequal opportunity to benefit from physical, emotional, and mental support around childbirth are just a few reasons why Black women face life-threatening “care” and deal with largely inequitable circumstances.

Consider the gap between Black and White mothers’ infant mortality rates. In recent periods, studies show 350 babies born to poor White mothers die within their first year. Whereas, 653 babies of poor Black mothers will die in that same first year. 

And wealth, which typically indicates access to reliable and professional healthcare, makes little difference. The richest Black mothers see 437 of their babies die in the first year while that number is 350 for rich White mothers.

In addition, the preterm birth rate for Black women, at least in the state of North Carolina, is a whopping 49% higher than for White women, and remains higher in many other states.

So, how does an awareness of Black maternal health help us? What should we really be aware of?

What Does Black Maternal Health Entail?
Prenatal Care – Black Midwives and Birth Doulas

Prenatal care is more than a few doctor visits. Increasing the use of birth doulas will help ensure a calmer and more peaceful birth and postpartum period. In the hospital, antenatal care includes access to supplements, immunizations, and relevant testing for diseases that could affect the life of mother and child.

Delivery With Dignity, Care, And Safety

Local representatives who influence the structure and personnel of the hospital industry must be a part of our action-oriented conversation. As for doctors, nurses, and consultants, they might opt for self-reflection in how they perceive and handle birthing people of minorities and non-White races.

Post Natal Care

Post-delivery resources can come in the form of a doula, educational support, and exclusive breastfeeding practices. While breastfeeding can be difficult for some mothers, many of the issues can be helped. With the power of breastfeeding to reduce high blood pressure, ovarian and breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes for mothers, this topic is worth a lot of investment.

Black women are crying for a deep focus on their mental health. Due to wealth disparities and the “strong Black woman” stereotype, many Black women choose not to seek out help when they encounter postpartum depression (PPD), a debilitating illness. 

Plus, one study shows that Black and Latina women endure PPD for much longer than their White counterparts. Another implies Black women experience PPD at twice the rate of other races.

Maternal health is vastly expansive. Situations in hospitals aren’t always cut and paste. Varying interactions arise for each unique birthing situation, and every woman has their own birthing story, though it’s often too similar in its horrific nature.

The goal is for more Black women to be able to tell a positive story. Here’s how you might be able to increase the chances of that happening.

What You Can Do To Improve Black Maternal Health

Depending on where you live, activists in your state may already be hosting free events focused on Black Maternal Health this week. For instance, Knoxville, Tennessee has a number of activities and events meant to both entertain and inform individuals about this crisis.

There are several other ways you can help: 

  • Visit Global Foundation For Girls and make a donation knowing your money is going towards assisting Black women by providing resources, training, and support for those who need it.
  • If appropriate, make time to reflect on your conscious and unconscious biases and consider their effects on Black families.
  • Educate yourself on common health complications surrounding birth and tell others about what you’ve found. 
  • Learn how you can destigmatize the mental and emotional impact when it comes to Black women and receiving help.
  • Find out if there is any legislation working to improve the lives of Black moms and their babies which you can show support for or make a difference in. 
  • Reach out to the Global Foundation For Girls teams or follow us on social media to stay updated on what’s going on in the Birth Justice community.