A girlfriend gets pregnant and the first thing we do is break out the confetti and start planning the baby shower. And while that’s great because a bun in the oven is definitely cause for celebration, like many things in this country, black women’s experience with childbirth is uniquely different than any other group, and there’s information that we should know that could literally make the difference between life and death. So in keeping with the tradition of each-one-teach-one, and when we know better we do better, here are 7 Facts Every Black Woman Should Know About Childbirth.
1) Black women have the highest maternal death rate
African American women are four times as likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, and the year immediately following, than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is despite the fact that America spends 111 billion dollars a year, more than any other country, on maternal health care. In some areas in Mississippi the maternal death rate for black women exceeds that of some Sub-Saharan Africa, while the rate for white women in that same area barely rates a mention.
2) Black Babies have the highest infant mortality rate
The infant mortality rate for African American babies is more than double that of white infants, according to the CDC, and even well educated Black women have birth outcomes that are worse than white women who haven’t finished high school. Why? The CDC points to the increased use of procedures to manage labor and delivery such as induction of labor. Some researchers point to the racism and stress that black women are exposed to on a daily basis causing anxiety and the release of stress hormones that can trigger premature labor. A documentary called ‘When The Bough Breaks’ explores this topic in detail. Another big factor is lack of access to quality health care services.
3) Black Women Have The Highest Cesarean Rate
At 32 percent, the Cesarean rate in the US is twice what the World Health Organization (WHO) deems ‘medically necessary.’ Additionally, at 35.8% (2013), black women have the highest Cesarean rate of any other group, putting us at a higher risk of infection, hysterectomy, hemorrhaging, lower breastfeeding rates, longer post pregnancy healing time, more future C-sections, and even death. Why do black women have more C-sections? Experts don’t have a definitive answer. Some say obesity could play a factor, others point to lack of education, and physician practice patterns. (When choosing an OB-GYN, midwife or hospital, ask about their C-Section rate.)
THE GOOD NEWS IS…
4) Doulas Improve Birth Outcomes
Doulas fulfill the role of supporting a birth mother before, during and after birth, while also advocating on her behalf to doctors during labor. Studies show that birthing with a doula results in fewer cesareans, less preterm birth, and fewer overall complications for mother and baby. Reirani Taurima, a first-time mom who used a doula for her home birth says, “I tell women if they’re going to have a baby get a doula. She’s the one who is going to be your coach. If she’s a good doula she’s going to know the different tricks on how to open your pelvis, and other pressure points that help during labor.” Do a google search for doulas in your area or visit SisterMidwife.com or The International Center For Traditional Childbearing, (ICTC) for a directory. In fact, ICTC has trained over 1,600 doulas and counting.
5) Midwives Improve Birth Outcomes
A midwife is a person trained to deliver babies and care for women before, during, and after childbirth. It has been statistically proven that birthing with a midwife reduces infant and maternal mortality rates, decreases cesareans, increases breastfeeding success, and improves the overall health of moms and babies. Particularly beneficial for black moms is longer visits with the midwife and the added attention given to stress, nutrition, keeping men involved, and an over all focus on the beauty of birth as an empowering experience. Black midwives bring with them an added education on the legacy of midwifery dating back to slavery and into the early 1960’s when ‘granny midwives’ were responsible for not just catching babies, but the health of the community as a whole.
6) Educate Yourself About Birth Before You Get Pregnant
“With so many decisions to be made and so much happening, if you wait until you’re pregnant to start learning about childbirth, it’s almost too late,” says birth activist and midwife Nicole Deggins, who regularly speaks at colleges, community centers, beauty salons, and places where she can spread awareness about our childbirth options. In her experience, both men and women, become interested and want to learn more once they’re educated about what’s happening’ A statement she commonly hears from women who find out about their birth options after they’ve already had a negative experience is, ‘I wish I would have known.
7) Birth Advocacy Groups Are Great Resources
Birth advocacy groups are playing a key role in spreading childbirth awareness for women of color, and fighting for ‘reproductive justice,’ a term coined by advocacy group SisterSong and means the right to have babies that live, access to midwives in our communities, having the right to birth where and with whom we choose, access to quality of life around our reproductive health, and the right to have a positive birth experience, among other things. Sister Song, ICTC, Black Women Birthing Justice, Birth Institute, Sista Midwife Productions, CommonSenseChildbirth, New England Doulas of Color, Birthing Project USA are just a few of the organizations that have sprung up in the past 10-15 years that have our backs and are conducting studies, changing laws, holding doctors, hospitals and law makers accountable, and in some cases, volunteering doula services to those who can’t afford it. Because the truth is, these statistics could change dramatically if we all decide to get informed, and share that information in the same way that we created a movement and shifted generations of indoctrination around our natural hair. It wasn’t easy, it didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. Today, black women are more empowered than ever. We are the fasting growing group of entrepreneurs in this country; we are #BlackGirlMagic. Let’s reclaim birth, shall we?