HealthStacy M. Brown

Why More African-American Women Turn to Midwives for Childbirth

Childbirth continues to be an iffy proposition for Black women, with the infant mortality rate still plenty too high in the Black community.

In response, and because of the pandemic, more African American women reportedly turned back to midwives.

Infant mortality rates fell for all age groups and shifts in the age of women giving birth accounted for about one-third of the decline from 2000 through 2017, according to a June 2020 study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics Reports.

However, Black infants have over twice the risk of dying as White infants, the report revealed.

Further complicating the childbirth experience is the current coronavirus pandemic, which has laid bare health care inequities.

Researchers at Kaiser Health noted that more Black women are looking to home birth as a way not only to avoid the coronavirus but also to shun a health system that has contributed to the infant mortality rate disparities faced by African American women.

The researchers argued that the roots of this disparity — one of the widest in women’s health care — lie in long-standing social inequities, from lack of safe housing and healthy food to inferior care provided at the hospitals where Black women tend to give birth.

“It feels like we are needed,” midwife Kiki Jordan, who co-owns Birthland, a prenatal practice targeting low-income women of color, told Kaiser Health officials for their report.

Since the pandemic hit in March, Jordan said, the practice’s clientele has more than tripled.

“Hospitals are less likely to prioritize birthing sessions since everyone is more focused on dealing with the pandemic,” Alicia Hough, a corporate wellness expert at The Product Analyst, told The Washington Informer.

“Both hospital rooms and staff are fully booked, and it’s difficult to find someone to monitor your situation. Also, giving birth will put you in a vulnerable state and your baby, which is why a dozen of extra protections should be considered,” Hough determined.

In hiring a midwife, she advises women to make sure they have isolated with the midwife immediately following a negative swab [coronavirus] test to assure that mother and baby are in safe hands.

“Thus, also keep in mind to save the contact of your OB-Gyne or Pedia should any complications that a midwife can’t fix, arise,” Hough said.

The lean toward midwives in the African American community comes as more reports show not just that there’s a disparity in the infant mortality rate, but a glaring shortage of Black doctors.

Researchers from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., analyzed data that captured 1.8 million hospital births in Florida between 1992 and 2015.

The Aug. 2020 study revealed that Black newborn babies in the United States are more likely to survive childbirth if they are cared for by African American doctors, but three times more likely to die when looked after by white doctors.

“Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases, and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns,” the George Mason University team wrote. “The findings suggest that Black physicians outperform their white colleagues when caring for Black newborns. Taken with this work, it gives warrant for hospitals and other care organizations to invest in efforts to reduce such biases and explore their connection to institutional racism.”

They added that reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities.

“American women are dying of preventable deaths and 50,000 annually nearly die due to life-threatening complications, and there are vast disparities between African American and Native American women when compared to their white counterparts,” stated Jennie Joseph, the Executive Director of her non-profit corporation, Commonsense Childbirth Inc.

Joseph is also the founder of the National Perinatal Task Force, a grassroots organization whose mission is to eliminate racial disparities in maternal-child health in America.

Joseph’s midwifery school is the first and only black midwifery school accredited by the Midwifery Education and Accreditation Council.

“Where a person, lives, works, plays or worships may negatively affect a person’s health, but the social determinants of health also include the effect of weathering or wearing down from racism, classism, sexism, and both conscious and unconscious biases, which are perpetrated personally or institutionally to the point of ill health or even death,” Joseph noted.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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