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In the last 30 years, maternal health disparities have increased for women of color, according to a new report by the US Commission on Civil Rights.
For example, There are 10.3 deaths per 100,000 for Latina women. For white women there are only 6 deaths per 100,000. Moreover, Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die than their white peers from pregnancy-related complications.
The report also illustrates how government, especially federal government, can play a critical role in changing this fact, according to Norma V. Cantú, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
“[At the federal level] efforts can be made to improve hospital quality, particularly for women of color if maternal health disparities are to be eliminated,” Cantú said. “Improvements in safety culture are linked with improved maternal health outcomes. One recommendation for improving safety in maternal healthcare is to implement standardized care practices across hospitals and health systems and to standardize data collection systems.”
The Report and Its Findings on Maternal Health Disparities
For women of color, the report finds that a lack of access to critical resources, such as quality care or health insurance, is key in understanding the gap.
The report examines the federal role in addressing racial disparities in maternal health, including negative pregnancy-related health outcomes and pregnancy-related deaths of women in the United States.
Native American women are more than two times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women in the U.S.
“These disparities have become more severe over the last thirty years,” Angelia Rorison, with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, writes in a press release. “Testimony received by the Commission shows the federal government can play an influential role in reducing racial disparities in maternal health outcomes.
“Improving access to quality maternity care for women is critical, including preconception and inter-conception care to manage chronic illness and optimize health; prenatal care; delivery care; and postpartum care for 12 months post-delivery, all of which is necessary for improving pregnancy-outcomes.”
One aspect of this issue, recently explored by the CDC, is severe childbirth complications.
The CDC’s recent report showed that “women from Latino communities face a substantially higher rate of severe childbirth complications compared to white women.”
Moreover, another report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found that Latinas women had a 33% higher severe maternal morbidity rate than women in white communities. These women also had higher rates for risk factors, too, such as prior cesarean birth and pre-existing diabetes.
“The disparities we see in maternal health care are the result of a complex fabric of social, racial and economic injustice – and require a new system of health caring, not just health care,” said Kim Keck of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. “Every mother deserves to have the best care at every stage of their pregnancy.”
Latinas and Maternal Health
Pregnant women and mothers of color areas face significant struggles.
Barriers to a healthy pregnancy for women of color and rural women, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Obstetric Care Challenges in Rural America report, include:
- Lack of access to health and human services
- Transportation challenges
- Lack of educational and employment opportunities
“To address the unique barriers that rural women face, there is a need for high-quality maternal health programs in their communities,” Lexie Schmidt, an outreach specialist the Rural Health Information Hub, writes in an email.
Moreover, a 2017 Research Review by Salud America!, shows that Latina mothers face individual and systemic barriers to both maternal health and the health of their children.
These issues include:
Maternal obesity. Obese Latina moms give birth to kids who are 1.8 times more likely to be obese than kids of healthy weight moms. Mothers’ physical activity and healthy eating habits before and during pregnancy play a big role.
Breastfeeding barriers, paid maternity leave, prenatal education, and workplace initiatives. Latina moms who took paid maternity leave breastfed for 2x times as long than those who didn’t. Latina moms are 20% more likely to breastfeed for 6 months in states with laws that enforce break-time from work or provisions for pumping. More than 90% of Latina moms in a nurse-plus-mom prenatal program started breastfeeding.
Marketing of infant formula. Women reported that formula marketing decreased confidence in a mother’s ability to breastfeed, especially when supplied by healthcare practitioners/practices. Breastfeeding initiation and duration are improved for babies born in hospitals that participate in WHO’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, which promotes breastfeeding and deemphasizes formula.
“Less than 50% of Latina moms still breastfeed their newborns by age 6 months,” according to the Salud America! research review. “Breastfeeding for 1 year or more resulted in a 47% reduction in obesity rates among Latino kids … breastfeeding also contains nutrients for proper infant development, reduces risk of asthma or allergies, and helps fight off viruses and bacteria. It also has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood.
What We Can Do to Improve Maternal Health of Latinas
The Salud America! research review recommends:
- Policymakers and advocates should promote breastfeeding via formula marketing reduction, paid maternity leave, and break time or private places to express milk at work.
- Policymakers also should enforce healthier eating and physical activity standards in early child care centers, while childcare providers should comply.
- Providers should use culturally tailored prenatal programs to promote breastfeeding, maternal healthy lifestyles, and proper infant feeding habits among Latinas.
You can also play a role in advocating for change.
Select your county name and get a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America!
You will see how your area stacks up in health care, housing, transit, poverty, healthy food, and other health equity issues. These compare to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card to local leaders, share it on social media, and use it to make a case for community change to boost health equity.