Pandemic adds to already higher Black pregnancy risks


Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy than White women in this country. The pandemic is adding still more risk for both mothers and babies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest data show that about 700 women die each year from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. It further estimated that over one-half of the reported pregnancy-related maternal deaths in the U.S. would have been prevented by early diagnosis and treatment.

Hemorrhage, chronic medical concerns, high blood pressure and inflection are among the leading cause of preventable pregnancy-related deaths, the CDC added.

Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a mother during pregnancy or within one year after giving birth, or at the end of a pregnancy from any cause. This mortality rate doubled in the U.S. between 2000 and 2015, and disproportionally affects Blacks, Native Americans and Latina women. 

For every woman who dies of pregnancy-related causes, 20 or 30 others experience acute or chronic morbidity, defined as severe pregnancy and postpartum complications. Maternal morbidity is 50 to 100 times more common in the U.S. than is maternal death. It is highest among Black women and lowest among White women, says the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

The MDH’s latest data show Black Minnesota women are 1.5 times more likely to die during pregnancy than White women; Native American women are much higher, 7.8 times more likely.  In Minnesota from 2011-2017, 15% of maternal deaths were Black.

Black women historically have recorded high maternal morbidity rates. Mistrust of doctors and other healthcare professionals and less access to quality prenatal care are top reasons for this, health experts points out. 

“Because of the distrust, they would come [to a doctor] later,” said St. Cloud Obstetrics Doctor Rwanda Campbell of many of her Black pregnant women patients. 

Campbell and NorthPoint Nurse Practitioner LaVonne Moore were panelists last week on the Sept. 23 African American Leadership Forum virtual panel discussion to discuss Black maternal health during a pandemic.

“This is a big issue not being told in the media,” said former KMOJ personality Georgia Fort, now a media producer and a mother of three who was also on the panel. Fort added that Black expecting mothers experience fear and anxiety due to mistrust of “physicians that don’t look like us.”

Having a baby always has been “quite serious and dangerous,” stressed Children Minnesota Nurse Adriene Thornton, a regular panelist. She supported Campbell’s recommendation for all pregnant women to get their flu shots. 

“We also recommend women get tested” for whooping cough, said Campbell.

Moore added that pregnant women should get tested for COVID-19 as part of their prenatal care. Thornton said that if a woman is “having any symptom that is unusual” she should seek immediate medical help.

After the baby is born, Campbell strongly urges a “cocoon of safety” be established for the child. “Newborns don’t have a fully developed immune system,” and all persons who will be around the child should get flu shots as well, the doctor added. “It optimizes the safety for the baby.

“Childbirth education is important,” she stressed. “My role is to empower women, empower them by knowledge. We really have to work as professionals so that when we talk to our patients it is not what I think, but what is the goal. We have to do better in educating our patients up front.”

Despite CDC guidance, mothers should breastfeed their newborns, even during the pandemic, though this is a personal choice, Moore said. “We can continue to breastfeed our babies.”