With a maternal mortality rate of 55.3 per 100,000, Black women continue to outpace other ethnicities.
The rate per 100,000 births for white women stands at 19.1. For Hispanic women, the rate per 100,000 remains at 18.2.
And while studies routinely examine the health and well-being of women, some suggest providers often ignore an essential symptom of a mother losing a child at, or before, birth.
“Mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, are common during pregnancy and after birth. Twice as many pregnant Black women with low incomes experience these conditions as white women,” said Dr. Huynh-Nhu Le, a professor in the Department of Psychological Services and Brain Sciences at George Washington University in D.C.
“Yet, Black women are much less likely than white women to receive mental health screening or treatment during and after pregnancy,” Dr. Le stated. “Therefore, it is critical to address health and mental health concerns for Black women during and after pregnancy to close the gap in providing equitable mental health care.”
Research teams at Children’s National Hospital and George Washington University have pledged to compare usual care to patient navigation alongside mental health prevention and treatment and peer-led support groups for women who are Black or of African descent during and after pregnancy.
The team wants to see how these options improve outcomes for women and their babies.
According to Dr. Le, researchers want to find and effectively treat low-income Black women receiving prenatal care and intervening early to help D.C. babies enjoy the strongest start in life.
“Maternal mental health conditions, such as anxiety, perinatal and postpartum depression are some of the most common complications of pregnancy and childbirth,” stated Leah Sparks, the CEO and founder of Wildflower Health, a maternal health platform for women and their healthcare providers.
Sparks estimated that 1-in-5 women are affected and 75% go untreated.
“This disproportionately impacts BIPOC women who are less likely to seek mental health support due to stigmas around mental health and distrust in the healthcare system,” Sparks noted.
A recent March of Dimes report found that Black and Hispanic women experience 49% higher premature births and African-American babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday.
“For patients who do seek mental health support, timely access can be a huge obstacle,” Sparks said. “Recent reports cite patient wait times ranging from 1 to 3 months. Yet, at the same time, we’re seeing postpartum depression rates rising nearly three times because of the pandemic.”
The connection between the mother’s overall health, particularly her mental health, and her baby’s development, cannot be overstated, insisted Kimberly Brooks, the program lead at HealthySteps DC.
“HealthySteps joins in the fight to close the gap in care for African-American mothers,” Brooks said. “We are committed to providing maternal mental health support to African-American mothers who often have limited access to Maternal Mental Healthcare. When provided with appropriate care and support, we see decreased depression increased social support and increased self-efficacy.”
Giovanna Andrews, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Harper’s Heart, noted that equitable maternal health care across racial, social-economic and age borders continue to represent a significant problem in America.
“I have learned through research and community outreach that there are multilayered issues that many expectant individuals face – from proper access to educational resources, unhealthy generational norms within particular sub-cultures, lack of transportation and biased practices within the medical field, to name a few,” Andrews said.
Additionally, Andrews determined that diversifying healthcare leaders, creating a trustworthy relationship and pairing social services within the healthcare field count as keys to achieve more equitable healthcare.
“Diversifying doctors, nurses, social-service workers, etc. will help create a sense of trust and comfortability for individuals. In addition, identifying and understanding the totality of the pregnant individual and the barriers they may face will help create an individualistic approach to healthcare practices,” Andrews stated.
“The trauma many individuals face before, during and after childbirth can heighten the risk of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Therefore, proper mental health awareness and accessibility within the maternal journey are very important as well as de-stigmatizing mental disorders particularly in Black and brown communities.”
“As a single African-American mother myself, I can speak firsthand on the ‘strong Black woman’ narrative that is weaved throughout my community. I had to unpack what mental triggers and traumas I faced throughout my pregnancy journey that led to my PPD after birth. Unfortunately, many mothers that look like me are not fortunate enough to have exposure and or willing to partake in proper mental health care. Breaking down those barriers is critical for equitable healthcare.”
“Though our country still has some of the highest death rates for mother and baby, the conversation, research and work are happening in pockets of our country. It is important to support that work through awareness and funding to uplift and spread the mission of many change-makers in the community,” Andrews said.