Pregnancy-related deaths have increased in the last decade in the United States, placing the country last among all developed nations when it comes to maternal mortality. A particularly alarming statistic is that Black women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than White women, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Raising awareness and driving change to ultimately reduce these deaths are crically-important goals.
With a mission to keep moms and babies healthy and safe, Baptist Health obstetricians Katia Apollon, M.D., and Kemoria Granberry, D.O., both Black women, are always looking for solutions to the multifactorial problems that result in health disparities. As physician experts, they have some suggestions to ensure all expectant families get the best care ― suggestions that may be especially beneficial to Black patients.
“It’s important to be your own advocate,” says Dr. Apollon. “Demand to be heard and acknowledged. If you have questions, ask them. If you don’t get answers or they are not explained well, go elsewhere for your care. Demand accountability.”
This can be challenging because Black women sometimes face bias in the healthcare setting that can affect the care they receive. Dr. Apollon cites the experience of tennis great Serena Williams, who nearly died after suffering a pulmonary embolism soon after the birth of her daughter, Olympia, in 2017. Ms. Williams, who had a history of blood clots, said hospital staff didn’t listen to her when she told them she had developed an embolism. She lived, she says, because she pushed for a CT scan.
“Black women are sometimes not heard,” Dr. Apollon says. “In the case of Serena Williams, she knew the signs. It took a while for people to listen to her and save her life.”
Dr. Granberry agrees that Black women need to be vocal about their care and she also urges them to develop strong relationships with their medical providers. “They need to feel comfortable enough to trust their doctors and healthcare team and to share their family history and their own symptoms. We, at the other end, need to take the time to listen.”
There are genetic factors that predispose women to conditions such as hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes and other health problems that may make them more at risk for pregnancy complications. The doctors agree that before and after their baby’s birth, patients should be aware of any warning signs. They suggest that you:
- Monitor your blood pressure even if you’ve never been told you have high blood pressure. Frequently use the blood pressure machines at the grocery store or drug store.
- Watch a headache. If you have a headache that doesn’t improve with your usual remedies, get checked out.
- Don’t wait if you believe your baby isn’t moving in utero.
- Continue medications and blood sugar checks if diagnosed with diabetes during your pregnancy.
- Most importantly, trust your instincts about your body.
Any unusual signs or symptoms are worth a call to your doctor, or a trip to the hospital.
“They can call us when they are on the way to the hospital,” Dr. Granberry says. “Let us put eyes on you.”
Dr. Apollon also believes that support, whether it’s a local group or an online organization, can help mothers-to-be and new moms get information they may need and provide a feeling of community.
Some online resources for Black women are blackmamasmatter.org, the organization behind Black Maternal Health Week, birthequity.org, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative.
Education on the disparities in healthcare and the unique issues faced by Blacks and other minority groups continues to increase. And, at organizations such as Baptist Health, employees participate in Diversity & Inclusion Committees, helping form policies and build community and awareness.