Is racism causing more black and native women to die from pregnancy?

Is racism causing more black and native women to die from pregnancy?

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Experts believe racism and unconscious bias in the healthcare system toward black and Native women is largely to blame for this disparity. Additionally, black women are at especially high risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death during and after the pregnancy period.

The CDC reviewed data on pregnancy-related deaths in the United States between 2011 and 2017. It found that African American women died from pregnancy and childbirth complications three times more often than white women, at almost 43 black women per 100,000 live births. Pregnancy-related death rates among Native American and Alaska Native women were 2.5 times higher than those of white women, at close to 33 women per 100,000 live births.

Maternal mortality rates were similar among whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific Islanders, ranging between 11 and 14 deaths per 100,000 births, the report found. (The CDC cautioned that the data on Hispanic women might not be accurate, however.)

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Pregnancy-related deaths are rare: While the findings are tragic and shameful, keep in mind that pregnancy-related deaths are extremely infrequent. On average across all races, about 17 women die for every 100,000 live births. That leaves 99,983 women who do not die. Of course, no one should have to die from having a baby, but the chances of this happening to you personally remain relatively slim.
  • Most deaths are preventable: The CDC estimates that 60 percent of maternal deaths can be avoided if pregnant women receive better healthcare and support, and if providers improve their practices. It's inexcusable that so many women are dying unnecessarily, but this finding also offers hope that the situation can improve if providers and politicians commit to tackling the problem.
  • Most women died after childbirth: Many women died before and during childbirth, but more than half of the deaths occurred in the days, weeks, and up to a year following delivery. This finding highlights how important it is to get regular postpartum care after having a baby.
  • Cardiovascular disease is a big problem: More than 1 in 3 pregnancy-related deaths was due to heart disease and stroke. That may sound surprising, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently issued new guidelines for treating heart disease in pregnancy, citing it as the leading cause of maternal death. Pregnancy can exacerbate existing heart disease, or cause heart conditions to develop, the ACOG says. Heart disease is especially prevalent among African American women, but until now providers have not been good at identifying this risk.

While we may not be able to turn this problem around as individuals, we can take steps to ensure we get proper care during and after pregnancy.

What you can do:

  • Stay alert for pregnancy problems: Know the symptoms for heart disease, infection, and other problems during and after pregnancy, and when to seek medical attention. Call 911 or go to the hospital immediately if you have chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or are coughing up blood. Also, make sure your OB knows about any underlying health issues you have or if you experienced problems during previous pregnancies.
  • Don't settle for one postpartum appointment: It used to be that new moms would see their OB once after delivery, and that was it. Now, the ACOG says you should see a doctor for postpartum care within the first three weeks after delivery, plus get a comprehensive checkup – including a heart-risk assessment – no later than 12 weeks after having your baby.
  • Lower your risk: You can reduce your chances of developing heart disease during or after pregnancy by eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking.

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Watch the video: House Health Finance and Policy Committee 021021 (July 2022).


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