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Maternal Mortality Rate For Black Women Improves, Still Concerning

It is difficult for experts to ascertain exactly what has led to a drop in the numbers.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate for Black women has improved, returning to pre-pandemic levels, but still remains an area of concern. In 2022, the rate of overall deaths returned to 22.3 per 100,000 live births, significantly fewer than in 2021, when it was as high as 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. This translated into a rate decrease from 69.9 to 49.5 for Black women.

Capital B News reports that the rate is still a matter of grave concern for experts. Jennie Joseph, a midwife and the founder of Commonsense Childbirth Inc. told the outlet that she is still worried about what the numbers represent for Black women. “We’re leveling back out to where we were, which is still abysmal. We don’t know until the next set of numbers come out,” said Joseph before continuing, “This death is preventable no matter which way we count them.”

Right now, with only a year of true post-pandemic numbers, it is difficult for experts to ascertain exactly what has led to a drop in the numbers, but some speculated that it could be due to an increased awareness of and utilization of the services of midwives and doulas, or just the fact that COVID-19 had a devastating impact on childbirth in general. Others hypothesized that the true effect will not be felt until a few years down the road when the impact of closures of rural hospitals, OB-GYN shortages, and the reversal of Roe v. Wade are truly brought to bear on the statistics. 

Dr. Yolanda Lawson, an obstetrician and gynecologist who is also the president of the National Medical Association, told CNN that the stark disparities present for Black women lead her to believe that a lack of adequate maternal healthcare is playing a role in the numbers for Black women. Lawson will testify on maternal health disparities before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education and Pensions on May 9.

“The disparity lingers and persists, as you can see from the data with Black women versus Caucasian women and others. Access is important from a lot of respects. We know that in this country, we’re having maternal healthcare deserts. We have states that have not expanded Medicaid in the face of seeing not only maternal and infant mortality but disparities.” Lawson said. “We have to continue still to make sure that we are supporting states to put in quality improvement projects and initiatives.”

Despite the improved numbers, the United States still has the worst outcomes for mothers among high-earning countries, which remains a point of emphasis for Dr. Angela Bianco, the director of maternal-fetal medicine as well as a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Because our stats have been rather abysmal, there’s been really a national call to arms to address our maternal mortality crisis, which is definitively disparately affecting women of color,” Bianco said before emphasizing that a strong mental health support system could help improve outcomes during the childbirth process. 

“There’s also your mental health. Mental health is very much directly correlated to maternal morbidity, maternal outcomes, and mortality,” Bianco said. “So if you can optimize your physical and mental health, have a strong support system in place, have providers that you can build a trusting relationship with, and then if necessary, also avail yourself of ancillary providers like birthing doulas to really have a more robust safety net in place and make sure that you’re in a hospital that provides all the necessary services for you – that’s really the best way to set yourself up for ideal outcomes.”

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