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Maternal Health Risk for Black Women

October 3, 2017

Black women in the U.S. are more likely to die during or after childbirth than any other group of American women.  The question has been asked and Essence and ProPublica has investigated.  There have been incidents of black women in the U.S. who for the most part are healthy during their pregnancy losing their lives during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.


“Black women are between three and four times more likely to die of a pregnancy related complication than white women.”



One woman’s story details the events of her pregnancy from becoming pregnant with her first son without any complications, and later becoming pregnant and giving birth to her second son. Mom was holding her son, and her husband noticed that her foley catheter was tinged red, and twenty minutes later the blood became bright red.  The husband alarmed the hospital staff about this unusual event that was occurring.  Staff did not act with a sense of urgency to the alarm, but eventually ordered a ultrasound.  The ultrasound showed that blood may be collecting in her abdomen, and over the next few hours, an abdominal ultrasound showed a blood clot.  She received fluids and blood transfusions, and a nurse reportedly notified the doctors that her blood pressure had plummeted.  The husband continued to question why staff had not gotten to the bottom of the reason for his wife’s bleeding.  The overseeing physician was notified about active internal bleeding and suggested surgery to investigate, the overseeing physician decided against surgery.   Eventually she was taking to surgery, and physicians reportedly found three liters of blood in her abdomen.  She was later pronounced dead of hemorrhagic shock--she had bled to death.


The United States is the only industrialized nation where the maternal mortality rate is on the rise.  According to the CDC Foundation, nearly 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable.  And two leading causes of maternal death are hemorrhage and preeclampsia, a disorder caused by pregnancy and associated high blood pressure. These two causes are preventable and only explain some, not all, of the racial disparity. Social factors also play a part as compared to White women, Black women disproportionately live in poverty, are uninsured and may live in neighborhoods that lack fresh groceries or green spaces for exercise, all of which can contribute to underlying health problems.


The reasons for maternal deaths are tough for any single solution to be enough, and solutions need to be implemented on multiple levels within the healthcare system.  To help Black patients feel more comfortable with their providers, medical professionals should undergo cultural competency training, and more African Americans should seek careers in obstetrics and gynaecology. Hospitals can implement universal protocols for handling conditions such as preeclampsia and hemorrhage as these conditions can be treatable if a medical team acts quickly.


Maternal health experts have recommendations for patients to safeguard against risk such as discussing conception before becoming pregnant, and having a consultation to figure out how to maximize your good health and minimize complications that could come from underlying conditions such as lupus, anxiety, depression, hypertension, diabetes, you name it. During pregnancy ensure that you eat nutritious food, limit weight gain, avoid alcohol and smoking, and attend regular checkups as it is important for mother and baby.




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