In the U.S., Black women are 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. This holds true across income brackets, geographic locations, and education levels. In fact, black women with at least a college education are 5.2 times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related reasons than white women with the same level of education.
Black women are also 3 times more likely to have fibroids in the uterus, which can cause bleeding. On average, they show signs of pre-eclampsia—a dangerous pregnancy condition associated with high blood pressure—earlier in their pregnancies than white women. And hospitals that serve primarily Black populations perform worse in most measures of birth outcomes compared with other hospitals.
This is a multifaceted issue, related to factors such as:
Underlying chronic conditions
Variation in the quality of healthcare available
Social determinants of health play a big role in the disparity. These are the conditions in the places where people live, work, and play. Consider variables that improve a person’s quality of life, like safe and affordable housing, access to education, public safety, availability of healthy foods, and toxin-free environments.
About 60% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Individuals alone can’t change the disparities in maternal healthcare, but if you are a Black woman who is pregnant or has been recently, here’s what you can do to reduce your chance of a fatal complication:
Let your healthcare provider know if something doesn’t seem right. Remember, providers are experts in medicine, but you are the expert when it comes to your body.
Understand the urgent maternal warning signs. These are symptoms you should not ignore. They include problems such as trouble breathing, changes in your vision, a severe headache that won’t go away, severe belly pain, and extreme swelling in your hands or face.
Share your pregnancy history with providers. During any kind of medical visit, let the provider know if you are pregnant or have been within the past year.
If you’re not currently pregnant but may become so in the future, take care of your health now. Get an annual checkup and make sure any chronic conditions are under control. It’s also a smart idea to take folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects in babies and is good for the growth of your hair, skin, and nails.