The Maternal Health Crisis In America
In September The National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers (NCIT) partnered to hold a panel on the Black maternal health and neonatal equity. The panel was held at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, which is the nation's foremost conference on issues impacting the African-American community. While maternal and child health is a crisis for the Black community, we know that improving health outcomes for all American women and children is essential to strengthening our nation. Maternal health is a fundamental human right, a cornerstone of well-being, and a gauge of a society's overall health. In the United States, however, there exists a stark and disheartening disparity in maternal health outcomes. The Black maternal health crisis is a profound issue that demands our attention, reflection, and action. If we want to have health equity it is critical that we understand this issue and the factors contributing to it.
The statistics are alarming: Black women in America are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. This staggering disparity in maternal health outcomes is a grave injustice that cannot be ignored any longer. We must confront the underlying factors contributing to this crisis and work toward equitable solutions.
- Systemic Racism: One of the primary drivers of the Black maternal health crisis is systemic racism. Black women face discrimination and bias throughout the healthcare system, from inadequate access to quality care that meets their needs to medical professionals who are inadequately trained and underestimate or ignore their pain and concerns. The long-standing systemic racism ingrained in healthcare must be dismantled. Keeping in mind that “systemic racism” while rooted in discriminatory policies and practices of health care and the medical profession, individuals in positions of authority to make decisions are able to take actions that impact lives.
- Socioeconomic Factors: Black women are more likely to face socio-economic disparities that impact their access to healthcare, including lack of insurance, lower income, and fewer healthcare facilities and birthing support options in their communities. These disparities exacerbate the maternal health crisis.
- Implicit Bias: Healthcare providers sometimes carry and act on implicit biases that affect their interactions with Black patients. This can result in delayed or inadequate care, leading to serious health complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
- Maternal Health Education: Comprehensive maternal health education and support are vital for all pregnant individuals, but it is often lacking in disadvantaged communities. Black women and their community must have access to information and support to navigate their pregnancy journeys successfully.
Solutions to the Crisis
- Raise Awareness: Raising awareness about the Black maternal health crisis is crucial. By shedding light on this issue, we can begin to dismantle the deeply rooted problems that contribute to it.
- Advocate for Policy Changes: Advocacy is a powerful tool for change. Pushing for policy changes that address systemic racism and biases within the medical profession and improve access to quality healthcare is vital.
- Community Support: Communities must come together to support Black pregnant individuals. This includes offering resources, emotional and financial support, and advocating for the well-being of mothers and their babies.
- Diverse Representation in Healthcare: Encouraging diversity among healthcare providers can help improve culturally competent care.
The Black maternal health crisis in America is a dire issue that requires immediate attention. We must confront the systemic racism, socioeconomic disparities, and implicit biases that contribute to this crisis. The NCIT is bringing together organizations, experts, and community leaders from around the country to raise awareness about prenatal-to-three issues and health equity is a critical priority. By raising awareness, advocating for policy changes, and providing support, we can work toward a more equitable future where all mothers receive the care they need and deserve. It's a collective responsibility to ensure that maternal health outcomes are not determined by the color of one's skin but by the quality of care and support they receive.
To become more involved in pushing for policy solutions to the Black maternal health crisis and other campaigns to help all expectant parents, infants & toddlers thrive, organizations can join the NCIT here, and individuals can use their voices as advocates by joining here.
Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D.
Founding Director, Equity Research Action Coalition
Faculty Fellow, UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute