Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of 2020 caused the world to undergo lockdown for over a year. As a result of putting their own busy lives on hold, increasingly more people noticed the severe oppression that people of colour face daily. This sparked a huge racial justice movement, inciting protests worldwide against police brutality and other racially-motivated injustices. This was an excellent way to start having the difficult, but important, discussions with family, friends, and even strangers. However, there’s a long way to go in order to have complete racial equality.
To begin, it has been proven that Black women have a pregnancy-related mortality rate over three times higher than that of White women in the United States. These death rates increase with maternal age and remain resolute across all levels of education. In fact, the mortality rate for pregnant Black women, from ages 30 to 34, is over four times higher than that of White women. Furthermore, among Black women with a college education or higher, the mortality rate is over five times higher than with White women. Most of these pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. The leading causes of pregnancy-related death vary depending on race and ethnicity. Cardiomyopathy, pulmonary embolism, and high blood pressure were associated with a higher share of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women, relative to White women in a survey of pregnancy-related deaths from 2007 to 2016.
Additionally, research shows that Black and Hispanic women have a higher risk for maternal morbidity—physical or mental illnesses or mental disabilities that are related to childbirth and pregnancy—which is more recurrent than maternal mortality.
In addition to maternal mortality rates, the infant mortality rates of children born to Black women are over twice as likely to pass on compared to their white counterparts. Fetal death or stillbirths are also more frequent among Black women than among White women and Hispanic women.
The factors that cause differences in maternal and infant health are extensive. Some of these include discrepancies in the coverage of health insurance and access to treatment. Wider socioeconomic causes, as well as discrimination and systemic racism, have a significant impact on health inequalities in pregnant women and their children. According to research, having health insurance before, during, and after pregnancy makes it easier to get the treatment one may need in order to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, people of colour are generally more likely to be uninsured and face other healthcare obstacles in the United States. For example, during the course of their pregnancy, Indigenous women, Hispanic women, and Black women recorded substantially higher rates of mistreatment compared to White women. One out of every five Black and Hispanic adults say that they've been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity when pursuing medical care in the previous year, with Black mothers showing a greater rate of racial discrimination.
With all facts considered, it is important to note that improving pregnancy outcomes is critical to preventing needless suffering and death brought upon people of colour while also improving overall population health. Moving forward, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new attention to the significance and relevance of addressing health inequalities in general, as well as disparities in maternal and infant health in particular. Overall, valuing inclusion in pandemic relief and response efforts, as well as in general health, would be critical in preventing future inequalities and advancing maternal and infant health.
Artiga, Samantha, et al. “Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health: An Overview.” Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), Kaiser Family Foundation, 10 Nov. 2020, www.kff.org/report-section/racial-disparities-in-maternal-and-infant-health-an-overview-issue-brief.
“Racial and Ethnic Disparities Continue in Pregnancy-Related Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 Sept. 2019, www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/p0905-racial-ethnic-disparities-pregnancy-deaths.html.
Koblinsky, Marge, et al. “Maternal Morbidity and Disability and Their Consequences: Neglected Agenda in Maternal Health.” Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, vol. 30, no. 2, 2012, pp. 124–30. Crossref, doi:10.3329/jhpn.v30i2.11294.