By Dr. Robert L. Waterhouse Jr.
The anticipation of bringing a new bundle of joy into the world – and all that comes with it – can be both exciting and stressful for moms-to-be. But if you are an expectant African-American mother, there is much more at stake, according to a recent study. Having a baby comes with several risk factors, and too many black moms die during and shortly after childbirth.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, on average, black mothers in the United States die at a rate that is three to four times that of white mothers – one of the widest, most striking, disparities in women’s health. According to America’s Health Ranking’s 2018 Health of Women and Children Report, these gaps persist in North Carolina, with nearly 30 deaths per 100,000 live births among black moms, compared to about 12 for white moms. Nationally, there are 20.7 deaths per 100,000 births for all mothers.
There are a variety of issues that factor into these statistics. Some of these include rising rates of chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease among minority groups. However, systemic issues abound. According to www.healthypeople.gov, factors such as access to health care and early intervention programs, educational, employment, economic opportunities, social support and availability of resources to meet essential needs influence outcomes. Additionally, inequities in the level of medical care and gaps in patient safety for expectant black mothers play a major part.
Given these disparities, we encourage expectant black mothers to take control of their health before, during and after their pregnancy. There are a number of things expectant mothers can do to curtail some of the risks that come with pregnancy and childbirth, including:
- Preconception health: Healthy pregnancies begin before conception. Treatment of chronic illnesses – particularly cardiovascular diseases – before getting pregnant will ultimately result in fewer complications. Expectant mothers should talk to their doctor about their general medical history (including their family’s), any current health issues, their diet and exercise routine, pregnancy history and any mental health concerns.
- Early and consistent prenatal care: Having prenatal care is associated with healthy pregnancies, especially care during the first trimester. If you know you are pregnant or think you might be, call your doctor to schedule a visit. According to www.womenshealth.gov, babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three-times more likely to have a low birth weight and five-times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get care.
- Proper nutrition: A balanced diet, taking prenatal vitamins and maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy can improve outcomes for both mother and baby.
- Be vocal about your medical care: As a patient, you have a right to know everything as it relates to your medical treatment. Do not be afraid to ask questions or raise concerns about your level of care or treatment (this includes routine procedures and tests) with your care provider.
There are also numerous community resources available for expectant moms. For instance, we team up with local health departments and federally qualified health centers to host Community Resource Fairs, where we connect expectant moms to necessary social services and health education. Additionally, we’ve held a Community Baby Shower that gives expectant moms the supplies they need to get off to a solid start.
Each year, UnitedHealthcare Community and State covers 160,000 pregnancies and births nationally. We recognize that early identification and engagement of pregnant mothers, enhanced support for care providers, an enriched health care experience, and access to community partners who can offer additional resources are keys to healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
For more information about maternal health and mortality among expectant and new moms in North Carolina and nationwide, visit the America’s Health Rankings 2018 Health of Women and Children Report from United Health Foundation.
Dr. Robert L. Waterhouse Jr. is the chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare of North Carolina.