The Black body deserves joy. It deserves to feel peace, and to breathe easy. This is especially true for the bodies of Black mothers and birthing people who face disparities before, during, and after pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are
Although many factors contribute to these disparities, systemic racism and implicit bias are the main underlying causes.
“Black women and Black birthing people need support to improve maternal health. They can’t do it alone,” says Monique Rainford, an OB-GYN and the author of “Pregnant While Black: Advancing Justice for Maternal Health in America.”
“It is not their fault. It is not because they aren’t doing the right things. It is way bigger than them,” she says.
Unjust laws and policies have restricted the rights of Black mothers for centuries. Understanding how this has affected the lives of Black families over time can offer insight into the disparities we see today.
“[Black women] didn’t start the problem,” says Rainford. “They inherited a problem that started way before them.”
During slavery, the Black body was exploited and subjected to forced labor and gross mistreatment. Laws and policies were created so that Black women didn’t have autonomy over their own bodies.
Enslavers relied on a Black woman’s ability to reproduce to increase the population of the enslaved. And in many cases, after giving birth Black women were taken away from their children to breastfeed and care for their white enslaver’s babies.
According to a 2023 paper, the legacy of slavery exists today in the form of structural racism. The impact of structural racism shows up in nonmedical factors that can have a direct impact on your health, also known as social determinants of health (SDOH).
The following examples of social determinants are suggested to increase the chances of maternal health disparities:
- unequal access to quality healthcare
- food and water insecurity
- experiences of racism
- exposure to air pollution
Chronic exposure to such disparities, interpersonally or vicariously, can cause overwhelming feelings and stress that can be difficult to cope with. In turn, this may trigger your body’s fight, flight, or freeze response in an effort to protect you from perceived life threatening situations.
For example, a negative perception of public safety and exposure to violence can impair the health of pregnant people and their infants.
Stress and long-term trauma can increase your risk of developing chronic conditions and illnesses that are common in the Black community, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re unable to receive quality maternal care, this can further increase your risk.
“All birthing people need the resources, opportunities, and support that enable them to protect their human rights to health and life,” says Angela Doyinsola Aina, MPH, co-founder and executive director of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA).
For years, Black women have been seen as resilient and able to withstand anything. The labels we receive from society are deeply rooted in white supremacy and stem from the perceived value placed on our bodies during slavery.
Our true strength is found in safety. And we deserve the right to be “angry” when our voices go unheard and our feelings are pushed to the side.
Gaining knowledge and understanding can help you make informed decisions for yourself and your family. It can also help you create healthy boundaries so other people can learn how to provide safe spaces for you.
Exercising your bodily autonomy
It’s your right to decide what you want to do with your body. Whether you’re planning for pregnancy, adoption, surrogacy, abortion, or not to have any children, your choice is valid.
If you’re considering birth control, weigh the pros and cons to determine which option will best support your needs.
“When discussing contraception, it’s important to first identify personal needs and wants, and then work to find the method that best aligns with those. Don’t just go with the option that’s most popular or was presented first,” says Dr. Charis Chambers, OB-GYN.
To learn more about birth control options, visit our birth control guide.
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Building a safe environment starts in the body
“When we are taught that our bodies belong to us, our role in our health and thereby our responsibility to our health is clarified,” says Chambers.
“We are then empowered to learn about our bodies in a way that prepares us to make decisions with authority, when needed.”
Experiencing unwanted thoughts or feelings can cause your body to react in an attempt to bring you a sense of safety. Even if there isn’t an actual life threatening event occurring in the present moment, how you feel is valid.
Consider taking the time to listen to your body without judgment. You can do this by:
- observing your surroundings
- being aware of how your surroundings affect your thoughts
- noticing how those thoughts affect you physically and emotionally
If you’re comfortable, you can develop a sense of safety by carefully witnessing your thoughts and feelings. It may take time, but practicing mindful awareness can assist you in advocating for yourself.
Consider the following practice to help you relax and bring awareness to your current needs:
Centering yourself in the present moment
You can do this practice sitting down or standing up. It takes 5 to 10 minutes. Consider using a blanket or pillow to support your body, as needed.
When you’re ready and feel safe, close your eyes or soften your gaze as you let your eyelids relax. Then:
- Take 3 deep breaths in through your mouth and out of your nose. If possible, try to deepen your breath each time you inhale, focusing on sending your breath to your stomach as though you’re filling up a balloon.
- Release your breath and let your breathing return to its natural state.
- Take a moment to observe the points of your body making contact with the floor. If you’d like, gently rock back and forth if you’re sitting, or wiggle your toes if you’re standing, to get a better sense of your body.
- When you’re ready, return to stillness and notice your natural breath for about 5 minutes. You may notice your breath is rapid or shallow. Try not to judge your observations; just notice.
- If you begin to experience uncomfortable sensations or thoughts, try to shift your focus to your natural breathing pattern. You can also bring a hand to the areas of your body where you sense discomfort to acknowledge your observations.
- Feel free to release this practice if you become too overwhelmed.
- When you’re ready to close this practice, inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth 3 times.
- Slowly bring yourself back into the present moment by wiggling your fingers and toes and blinking your eyes open.
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Black women and birthing people need safe environments where they feel heard and cared for. But recent research has found that many Women of Color experience mistreatment when receiving maternal care.
- ignored them
- refused their request for help
- failed to respond to requests for help in a reasonable amount of time
“Empowering Black women with clear information about their health status, risk factors, and various options for disease prevention and management could help to mitigate a system that often dismisses their care concerns as incorrect or undereducated,” says Aina.
Consider the following solutions to help address the disparities Black women currently face in maternal health:
1. Increase access to quality healthcare
According to March of Dimes, 62% of U.S. maternity care deserts — counties with limited to no access to quality maternal care — are in rural areas, where many women lack insurance coverage.
And according to 2020 research, 55% of Black women receive continuous coverage from preconception to the postpartum period, compared with 75% of white women. This decreases their chances of receiving appropriate preventive, prenatal, and postpartum care.
“In women’s health, that often means that preventive care is forfeited, and urgent and emergent care becomes the standard. This is harmful and dangerous, especially as it relates to access to contraception,” says Chambers.
More U.S. states can help Black women navigate mental health care and reduce maternal mortality by approving legislation to extend Medicaid for up to 1 year postpartum.
In addition, policy changes are needed to increase coverage during preconception to address adverse health conditions before pregnancy.
2. Invest in community resources
“When it comes to Black Mamas and birthing people, maternal and reproductive health care services and programs must always be informed by the birth justice and human rights frameworks.
“For this very reason, BMMA has continually highlighted and centered culturally congruent practices, with a focus on Black midwifery care and full-spectrum Black-led Doula care, as sound, evidence-based solutions, among other interventions,” Aina explains.
Rainford suggests measuring the effectiveness of the support that’s being provided to Black women. She expresses the importance of providing increased investment into the services and programs that prove to be effective.
For example, if a community health center offers breastfeeding education to Black mothers, it may help to conduct a survey before and after classes. This can help measure whether the knowledge provided improved their outcomes or experiences when breastfeeding.
3. Continuous support from birthworkers and healthcare professionals
Receiving continuous support from healthcare professionals, such as OB-GYNs and midwives, and those who are trained to provide care, such as doulas, can improve outcomes for Black mothers.
“Doula and midwifery care support during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period reduces rates of cesarean deliveries, prematurity and illness in newborns, and the likelihood of postpartum depression,” says Aina.
“When we center the person giving birth and their experience over pride and personal agendas, we will be better positioned to create the supportive and safe spaces that black women deserve,” adds Chambers.
But midwives, OB-GYNs, and doulas can’t do this work alone. Creating these safe spaces relies on the support of all healthcare professionals, including changes to policies and systems.
“We just don’t have enough of a pull, even among all of us, to create the change that’s needed. It’s bigger than all of us,” says Rainford.
4. Offer unbiased education services
Due to implicit bias, many healthcare professionals may have preconceived notions regarding the care needed for Black women.
Effective communication can also help Black women become aware of the care that’s being provided, and to allow them to express bodily autonomy when they feel unsafe.
For example, a healthcare professional can request consent before adjusting their patient’s body to a different position.
“It’s our responsibility, as obstetricians and caregivers, to explain why we suggest what we suggest,” says Rainford.
“Prioritizing patient autonomy and education improves healthcare outcomes by allowing patients to fully partner with their medical practitioners. It is only when partnership is balanced and mutually respectful that true collaboration occurs,” adds Chambers.
5. Provide space for Black women to tell their stories
There are a lot of resources and statistics that highlight the mistreatment and injustice that many Black women face in maternal care.
But it’s also important to provide platforms that encourage positive experiences to be shared.
Platforms should also allow Black women to safely express how their right to bodily autonomy improved outcomes before and after birth.
The value of knowledge
“When my daughter woke up in the middle of the night and I breastfed her and she kept crying, the knowledge let me know she would be OK. I was scared, I was worried. But the knowledge kept me going. I knew she had enough wet diapers and if she had enough stools.
“It’s the knowledge that keeps you going sometimes in the middle of the night when you feel like there’s nobody else but you.
“If you don’t have that knowledge you may feel lost, but it is our job as obstetricians and healthcare providers to ensure you know where to turn to get your questions answered,” Rainford shares.
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Lack of access to quality care and insurance coverage can increase the chances of maternal disease and death, which would otherwise be preventable. Much of this is rooted in the legacy of slavery and its impacts on systemic racism today.
Systemic racism directly and indirectly affects birthing outcomes. And although there is hope for the future, it’s important that we face the reality of the present.
Creating change in maternal health and systemic racism is like raising a child: It takes a village. No matter your age, race, or gender, your help is needed.
If you’re in need of support, you’re not alone. Consider visiting the Postpartum Support International (PSI) resource page for help.
For those who want to help advance equitable, quality care for Black women and birthing people, consider joining BMMA to help raise awareness.
We are thrilled to reveal the official theme for Black Maternal Health Week 2023 (#BMHW23): “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!” In light of the steadily alarming rise of maternal mortality in the U.S., which recent data shows has been exacerbated by the pandemic; and amidst growing cases of ...What is the purpose of Black maternal health Week? ›
During Black Maternal Health Week and every week, HHS will continue its work to ensure safer pregnancies.” On April 10th President Biden officially proclaimed April 11th through April 17, 2023, as Black Maternal Health Week to raise awareness of the state of Black maternal health in the United States.What are the top facts about black maternal health? ›
Black women are three to four times more likely to die from complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth than white women. Death rates for infants born to Black Americans with advanced degrees are higher than white Americans who didn't go to high school.What is black maternal health build back better? ›
The Build Back Better Act makes the largest investments in American history to save moms' lives, end racial and ethnic maternal health disparities, and advance birth equity across the United States, including every eligible provision of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act and permanent yearlong postpartum Medicaid ...What is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023? ›
This year's theme is 'anxiety', with the week running from 15 to 21 May 2023. Explore all our resources available for Mental Health Awareness Week 2023.Why is the theme black health and wellness? ›
The theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc., throughout the African Diaspora.What is the goal of maternal health? ›
Promoting health along the whole continuum of pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care is also crucial. This includes good nutrition, detecting and preventing diseases, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and supporting women who may be experiencing intimate partner violence.Why is maternal health important to the community? ›
Maternal health care is essential, not only to the lives of mothers and babies but to the general welfare of society. Because they play a vital role in promoting maternal health, nurses have the opportunity to help address the challenges mothers face in accessing quality health care and leading healthier lives.What are traditional African beliefs about pregnancy? ›
In many African cultures, pregnancy and birth is revered because it is considered as the reproduction of future generations and the rebirth of ancestors. Africans believe in reincarnation. African culture believes in procreation. So the ancestors return to earth to through the birth of a new child.What are contributing factors to black maternal mortality? ›
Research has documented that social and economic factors, racism, and chronic stress contribute to poor maternal and infant health outcomes, including higher rates of perinatal depression and preterm birth among African American women and higher rates of mortality among Black infants.
Listen to Black patients and change the culture of medicine.
Find out what our patients need and meet them where they are. We need to always provide quality care to Black mothers and birthing parents, and not just focus on maternal death and complications during pregnancy.
In 2021, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black (subsequently, Black) women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic White (subsequently, White) women (26.6) (Figure 1 and Table). Rates for Black women were significantly higher than rates for White and Hispanic women.What is 5 improve maternal health? ›
Millennium Development Goal 5: Improve maternal health
FAO contributes to improving maternal health through efforts to: improve women's access to productive resources and income; improve women's nutritional status; and empower women to obtain better health care, education and social services.
Its MISSION is to improve birth and maternal health outcomes for African-American families in San Diego County by changing the systems that contribute to social injustices, economic disparities, and racial and health inequities. All models in the PEI campaign are local community members.What is the Black maternal health resolution? ›
The resolution underscores the disproportionate health complications suffered by Black birthing people during pregnancy who face a maternal mortality rate three times that of their white counterparts due to structural racism and gender oppression in maternal health care experiences.How do you promote mental health awareness? ›
- Talk About Mental Health Issues Openly. ...
- Educate Yourself and Others on the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illnesses. ...
- Practice Kindness and Compassion. ...
- Take and Share a Free Mental Health Screening. ...
- Participate or Volunteer in Awareness Events.
Raising awareness reduces the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and seeking treatment. Without treatment, mental health disorders can reach a crisis point. As the World Health Organization states, “there is no health without mental health.”What are the 4 types of mental health? ›
mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder) anxiety disorders. personality disorders. psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)What is the Black health strategy? ›
The Strategy emphasizes that addressing anti-Black racism is central to improving the health of Black people in Ontario and essential to affirming our right to attaining and maintaining healthy lives and having access to health services without fear of racial discrimination.What is the mission statement of black mental health? ›
Click here for more information and resources. Black Mental Health Alliance's mission is to develop, promote and sponsor trusted culturally-relevant educational forums, trainings and referral services that support the health and well-being of Black people and other vulnerable communities.
Compared to their white counterparts, African Americans are generally at higher risk for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS, according to the Office of Minority Health, part of the Department for Health and Human Services.What are the sustainable development goals and maternal health? ›
SDG Target 3.1 Reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births. How can women's lives be saved? Most maternal deaths are preventable, as the health-care solutions to prevent or manage complications are well known.Why is maternal and child health important to the field of public health? ›
Maternal and child health is important because it affects the livelihoods of the next generation, which affects communities, families and the health care system.What are the goals and philosophy of maternal care? ›
Philosophy of Maternal and Child Health Nursing
Maternal and child health nursing is community- centered; the health of families depends on and influences the health of communities. Maternal and child health nursing is research- oriented, because research is the means whereby critical knowledge increases.
Support healthy behaviors that improve women's health, such as breastfeeding,82 smoking cessation,83 and physical activity. Recognize and address factors that are associated with overall health and well-being, including those related to social determinants of health.What are the emerging issues in maternal and child health? ›
Examples of emerging issues include, but are not limited to, increasing rates of opioid and other substance use disorders, emergent environmental health threats, persistent or increasing disparities in maternal mortality, inadequate availability of and access to behavioral health services, disparities in access to ...Why is maternal health literacy important? ›
Maternal health literacy (MHL) is the ability of mothers to access, understand, appraise and apply information on mother and child health that contributes to reducing maternal and child mortality [4–8], which subsequently contributes to achievement of sustainable development goals numbers 2 (zero hunger: reducing ...What are two reasons why mothers are sacred in African culture? ›
While mothers are revered as creators, as providers, cradle rockers, nurturers, and goddesses, they also inspire awe because they are known to wedge huge powers in their children's lives. The idea of self- sacrifice emphasizes the centrality of motherhood in African society.What is the importance of motherhood in African culture? ›
In African culture, motherhood is viewed as sacred, a powerful spiritual component and also an evil, but in two different situations. In African society, though motherhood gives a woman her identity, it also limits her identity.What are 3 characteristics of traditional African beliefs? ›
Native African religions are centered on ancestor worship, the belief in a spirit world, supernatural beings and free will (unlike the later developed concept of faith).
Since that time, state, advocacy and community-based organizations, and others have used January 23 as a day to raise awareness about maternal health, educate health care providers about maternal mortality, and encourage birthing people, families and providers to recognize and discuss potential signs of an emergency.What is the theme of Black Heritage Month? ›
2021 Theme: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. The Black Family has been a topic of study in many disciplines—history, literature, the visual arts and film studies, sociology, anthropology, and social policy.What is the theme of Black History Month wellness? ›
Since its inception, Black History celebrations have always had a theme. The importance of yearly themes is to focus the attention on a particular aspect of Black culture and experience. The 2022 Black History Month's theme is Black Health and Wellness.What is black maternal health? ›
The Black Maternal Health Caucus is organized around the goals of elevating the Black maternal health crisis within Congress and advancing policy solutions to improve maternal health outcomes and end disparities.What are the biggest maternal health issues? ›
- severe bleeding (mostly bleeding after childbirth);
- infections (usually after childbirth);
- high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia);
- complications from delivery; and.
- unsafe abortion.
The resolution underscores the disproportionate health complications suffered by Black birthing people during pregnancy who face a maternal mortality rate three times that of their white counterparts due to structural racism and gender oppression in maternal health care experiences.Is April Black maternal health Month? ›
Black Maternal Health Week takes place every year from April 11 –17.What is the theme for Black History Month in 2024? ›
Education is a core theme of this holiday and providing Black students with access to education is a huge movement in the country.What are the 3 colors for Black History Month? ›
According to a book published by the UNIA, 'Red is the colour of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the colour of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the colour of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland.What are the three colors for Black History Month? ›
The four colours that are used for Black History Month are black, red, yellow and green. Black represents resilience, red denotes blood, yellow is optimism and justice, and green symbolises rich greenery.
Black health and wellness means having a unified community that listens to, cares for, advocates for, and helps the least resourced among us get the necessary care to live the best holistic and fulfilling lives possible while we share our time in the world.What are the goals or objectives of Black History Month? ›
Black History Month was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today.What is the theme of the black joy? ›
It has centered oppression and suffering in portrayals of Black people and communities, while neglecting the beauty of our varied lives, cultures and traditions, and the happiness that thrives within them. The concept of Black Joy shines a light on this narrative by spotlighting the things that make life joyful.What are disparities in maternal healthcare? ›
Black and AIAN women have pregnancy-related mortality rates that are about three and two times higher, respectively, compared to the rate for White women (41.4 and 26.5 vs. 13.7 per 100,000 live births) (Figure 1). These disparities increase by maternal age.Who created black maternal health week? ›
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12) and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14) in the House, as well as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate, have introduced companion resolutions recognizing Black Maternal Health Week, "to bring national attention to the maternal health crisis in the United States ...