Change requires everyday awareness
Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) is an annual campaign, founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, that takes place every year between April 11-17. April is National Minority Health Month in the U.S., intending to advance health equity for racial and ethnic minorities. BMHW specifically aims to raise awareness of the stark disparities in maternal health. This year, for the first time, the White House issued an official proclamation establishing BMHW and calling on all Americans to raise awareness of the state of Black maternal health in the U.S. But to make a meaningful difference for Black mothers and babies and close the gaps in care and outcomes, we must make the commitment year-round.
Racial Disparities in Black Maternal Health
The United States is one of the most dangerous developed nations in which to give birth for women of all races. But statistics show that Black women are significantly disadvantaged compared to White women. For example:
- Black women are 3.2 times more likely than White women to die from pregnancy-related complications.
- For women over 30, the pregnancy-related mortality rate (PRMR) for Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native women is 4-5 times higher than White women.
- The PRMR for Black women with at least a college degree is 5.2 times that of White women with the same level of education.
- The Black infant mortality rate is 2.3 times higher than that of White infants.
- Black mothers are 2.3 times more likely to receive late or no prenatal care compared to White mothers.
Sources: Sources: cdc.gov, minorityhealth.hhs.gov
Implicit Bias and Maternal Care
Socioeconomic reasons alone can't account for Black maternal health disparities. Unlike their White counterparts, Black women aren't protected from pregnancy-related deaths by education, income, or access to quality healthcare. Evidence points to racial discrimination and implicit bias on the part of maternal healthcare providers as having a role in creating inequalities in care and outcomes for Black women. Bias occurs when our brains rely on faulty assumptions and stereotypes while processing information.
Implicit bias can cause well-meaning health professionals to:
- Ignore symptoms
- Dismiss patient concerns
- Deny treatment options
- Take actions that worsen health outcomes
The way to eradicate bias in healthcare is to acknowledge it, understand it, and employ strategies to overcome it. Implicit bias training is a proven method for accomplishing these goals. It does this by helping people uncover their biases and by providing a structure of practice and repetition to overcome discriminatory thinking and behavior.
Quality Interactions' accredited course on Breaking Through Implicit Bias in Maternal Care is available for independent learners and organizational license.
Raising Everyday Awareness
Changing the story of black maternal mortality in America is going to take more than one week of education and activism. BMHW is an important acknowledgment of the deep issues of systemic racism and implicit bias in maternal healthcare that result in heartbreaking disparities for women of color, especially Black women. But it is just the starting point. We must keep awareness raised with education, dissemination, and policy initiatives along the lines of California's landmark SB-464 Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, which calls for implicit bias training for all maternal care staff. With concentrated effort and continuous work, we can eliminate racial health disparities in Black maternal care.