Congratulations, you’re pregnant!
To some women, pregnancy is a deeply spiritual and emotional experience. Many expectant mothers have come forward to share their personal experiences to help other women better prepare for what to expect. After becoming pregnant, they soon learn that while motherhood may be a blessing, it can take quite the toll on the mom-to-be.
Black mothers have a particularly high maternal mortality rate. This means that Black women are at an increased risk of dying before, during and even after childbirth.
Racism definitely plays a large part in this. And while we’d like to believe that medical staff is held to a higher standard when providing care, they’re still humans who carry biases. A common misconception among many in the medical community is that Black women have a higher pain tolerance. Because of this, many Black mothers have come forward to reveal their traumatic experiences.
In a 2018 interview with Vogue, tennis superstar, Serena Williams, opened up about her difficult birthing experience. They found that small blood clots had collected in her lungs, and eventually led to a large abdominal hematoma. The quality of care provided to her by medical staff was greatly lacking. So much so, that had she not advocated for herself, she would have died.
Unfortunately, many Black women experience similar pushback from medical staff when they seek medical treatment. The CDC reported that Black mothers are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white mothers. This is especially discomforting considering that pregnancy is supposed to bring forth new life, not take it away.
Fortunately, there are resources available to Black women to help ensure that they have a safe pregnancy and delivery. Let’s take a look at some ways that Black mothers can protect themselves on their pregnancy journey:
1. Research Available Resources
Even Black medical professionals, like Shalon Irving, who have access to the best medical care are still greatly affected by racist medical practices. That means the struggle for the everyday Black woman to gain access to adequate care is even more difficult.
Irving passed away after multiple attempts to seek medical care. She was dismissed each time, ultimately leading to her demise. Her death sparked national conversations surrounding Black maternal mortality. As a result, many people started programs like the Black Maternal Health Caucus to raise awareness and advance policy solutions that would allow for better medical care for Black mothers.
The Black Maternal Health Caucus provides a long list of non-profit organizations, charities and other available resources to expectant Black mothers. Some of these resources include mental health assessments and care, free webinars and virtual events, doula services and more.
2. Consider a Black Doula
A doula is a trained professional who provides physical and emotional support for women during and after their pregnancy.
Not to be confused with midwives, doulas do not have medical training and experience so they’re not legally allowed to provide medical care.
Historically, many Black women acted as both midwives and doulas during slavery. They worked to provide support to Black and White mothers because medical assistance with childbirth wasn’t widely practiced.
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Now, doulas can work alongside medical staff to further support pregnant women. Some services that doulas provide may include:
- Emotional support
- Breathing techniques during labor and delivery
- Newborn education and care
- Lactation and breastfeeding education and assistance
- Sleep coaching for infants
- Meal preparation
- Umbilical and/or circumcision care
Each doula is different so pregnant women should choose one whose beliefs and techniques they most identify with. Organizations like the National Black Doulas Association, work to provide helpful resources to Black pregnant women and aspiring Black doulas. They offer a national directory of Black doulas so that Black pregnant women can get the care they need from women who may better understand their needs.
3. Watch Out for Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. If left untreated, it can cause premature births, miscarriages or stillbirth. Because diabetes disproportionately affects the Black community, it’s no wonder why Black pregnant women are at greater risk for developing gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes moves in silence. It presents little to no symptoms so pregnant women are often unaware that they even have it. Some common symptoms to look out for are:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
Pregnant women who are overweight and those with chronic hypertension are at a higher risk of developing the disease so it’s important that they, especially, remain up-to-date with all prenatal appointments. To help prevent gestational diabetes, Black women should also maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
Expectant mothers can also ask their doctor for a gestational diabetes test, which is usually performed sometime between the 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. This test helps doctors diagnose the disease so that pregnant women can begin treatment to ensure that they and their baby remain healthy.
4. Boost Your Baby's Development by Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a healthy practice that provides ample nutrients that are important to an infant’s development. It also provides a strong bonding connection between mother and child. Unfortunately, Black mothers are reported as having the lowest breastfeeding rate out of all races, nearly 20 percent lower than that of White mothers.
One reason for this is that a large number of hospitals in black communities don’t offer breastfeeding classes or other resources. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “Black women are also more likely to experience in-hospital formula introduction, which is associated with lowered breastfeeding rates.”
Expectant mothers should ask their doctor for a list of available resources to assist them on their breastfeeding journey. Additionally, there are various support groups designed to help educate and encourage Black women who choose to breastfeed. Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association is a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce the disparities in support for breastfeeding Black women. And in collaboration with Black Breastfeeding Week, they organize summits related to fostering conversations around Black breastfeeding, host breastfeeding sessions and plan visual and performing art shows for breastfeeding mothers.
5. Hire a Black Midwife
Because the maternal mortality rate for Black women is so high, many pregnant women are skeptical about entrusting their care to hospital staff. Fortunately, Black women have options. More and more women are opting to hire a midwife to guide them through their pregnancy.
Midwives are trained, medical professionals who assist pregnant women as they navigate labor and delivery. They also aid in the aftercare following childbirth.
Black midwives are more likely to be sympathetic to Black pregnant women’s concerns and needs. Black women should search for Black midwives in their area who can support them through their journey. Because the birthing process can be risky and even life-threatening, Black women should choose a midwife that they’re comfortable with. Some common questions to ask before hiring a midwife include:
- What does prenatal care entail?
- What is the total cost for services, with or without insurance?
- How are complications during labor and delivery handled?
- Do you provide options for at-home births, birth centers, or hospital births?
- How do you develop and facilitate birth plan goals?
- How do you provide postpartum support?
During consultation, a potential midwife should be kind, compassionate and personable. They should also be knowledgeable and willing to answer all questions to demonstrate their capability to perform the job.