Black maternal health Black Maternal Health Week, which is celebrated annually from April 11-17, was founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance and is part of National Minority Health Month. It serves to raise awareness of Black maternal health issues and promote dialogue around solutions, policies, research, and community involvement.
Disparities in Black Maternal Health
University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Assistant Professor & Residency Program Director Audra Williams, M.D., explained that racial disparities in maternal health are differences between races in maternal health outcomes, such as maternal mortality, infant mortality, perinatal mental health disorders, breastfeeding rates, and more.

“Unfortunately, Black women are disproportionately affected when it comes to maternal health disparities in the United States,” said Williams.

According to Williams, the most striking disparity is in maternal mortality, where Black women are three to four times more likely to die because of pregnancy or delivery complications compared to White women in the United States. In addition, Black women are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and preeclampsia.
Contributing Factors
“There are many factors that contribute to disparities in maternal mortality,” said Williams, “including systemic and structural racism, variations in quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, and implicit bias of healthcare workers. Cardiac and coronary conditions are the top underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women, followed by cardiomyopathy, thrombotic events (blood clots), hemorrhage, and hypertensive disorders.”

Over 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are considered preventable, and Williams suggested that there are things that can be done to reduce this disparity. She said that initiativesMMRlogo1 to accurately capture the maternal mortality rate, like the Alabama Maternal Mortality Review Committee and the Pregnancy, Postpartum, and Postnatal Health (P3) Enhancing Quality and Access to Achieve Equitable Maternal and Infant Health (P3 EQUATE) Network, are essential to identifying the problem and providing potential solutions. The medical community at large can work to recognize how racial disparities play a role in patient care and work to eliminate them in all care settings.
Helpful Intiatives
Healthcare providers can also work to optimize maternal health by managing chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes that can contribute to pregnancy complications. Public health initiatives must address social factors that impact maternal health like unstable housing, food insecurity, substance abuse, violence, and racial and economic inequality. Policy issues including expanding Medicaid are important to ensure that patients can access critically important pre- and inter-conception care.

Williams explained that the problem of maternal health disparities is daunting because it’s not something that can be fixed with just improvements made within the walls of a hospital – it also takes large systemic changes to see an impact. Funding to support research and community health initiatives that can drive solutions is needed.
A Network for Equitable Maternal Health
UAB is the coordinating center for the P3 EQUATE Network. This American Heart Association funded network is a collaborative effort between research institutions and community partners, aimed at improving maternal and infant health outcomes, with a focus on reducing health disparities, particularly for Black and underserved populations.

On March 3, 2023, the P3 EQUATE Network held its annual event at UAB, which provided an opportunity for members to come together and discuss progress made on their projects, share ideas, and identify areas for collaboration to improve maternal and infant health outcomes.

The major objectives of the event were to allow members to share their equitable maternal health study progress and receive feedback from other investigators and core members. The major topics discussed at the event included community engagement and collaboration, project dismantling structural racism, improving interprofessional education, and evaluating digital and community health worker interventions to reduce disparities and improve healthcare access.
Impactful ResearchNew Poppy Logo BabyBump
P3 Providing an Optimized and emPowered Pregnancy for You (P3OPPY) is a study within the EQUATE Network that evaluates promising interventions to reduce disparities and improve health care access and quality among pregnant women and their infants from historically marginalized communities.

The P3OPPY project, led by principal investigator Rachel Sinkey, M.D., co-principal investigator Waldemar Carlo, M.D., and joined by a large team of collaborators from the Heersink School of Medicine and the School of Public Health are testing the hypothesis that an innovative mobile-health integrated care model and a community health worker integrated care model will improve pregnancy outcomes among women who experience persistent disparities.

3 Aims Infographic Corrected 1536x1024The study aims to understand ways existing P3OPPY digital health intervention (DHI) and community health worker (CHW) interventions can be tailored to best address the needs of Non-Hispanic Black (NHB) pregnant women and their infants from historically marginalized communities.

The promise of digital health intervention and community health worker engagement makes P3OPPY interventions potentially transformative, sustainable, and scalable for Black mothers and their infants from underserved communities in Alabama and beyond.
Key Takeaway
Black Maternal Health Week is a significant event that raises awareness of Black maternal health issues and promotes dialogue around solutions, policies, research, and community involvement.

“I encourage Black women to advocate for themselves by asking questions and talking to their providers about their concerns,” said Williams. “If something doesn’t feel right – say something. And if you don’t feel like you’re being listened to, get another opinion. Patients should try to engage in larger scale advocacy as well– using their voice to talk to elected officials to support policies that will improve maternal health.”

The healthcare community and public health initiatives can help reduce maternal mortality rates in the Black community by recognizing disparities plays a role in patient care, managing chronic conditions that can contribute to pregnancy complications, and addressing social factors that impact maternal health.