Women have special health needs when they’re pregnant and nursing. They have different nutritional needs, activity and food restrictions, and should be monitored regularly during and after pregnancy to look for any potential complications. While many women in the United States have access to all kinds of comprehensive resources and care, other women are not so lucky.
Even in a country with excellent doctors and advanced technology in hospitals, disparities in maternal healthcare persist. This isn’t a subject that’s acknowledged or tackled enough, despite the fact that it causes mothers and babies to lose their lives. Women who don’t have access to quality care are those who suffer the most, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed ASAP.
So just how bad are these inequalities for pregnant women? Here’s what you should know about maternal health disparities in America—and what we can do to end them.
How Much Do You Know About Maternal and Child Health Disparities?
If you haven’t been personally affected by maternal health disparities, then you probably don’t know much about the subject. Maternal health isn’t something most people think about until they’re directly affected by it. But for those who have experienced preventable complications and their families, the disparities in our country suddenly become very clear.
The statistics paint a grim picture: from 2014 to 2000, the maternal mortality rate actually increased by over 25%, despite the fact that we have more advanced technology and knowledge than we did during the 20th century. Over 700 women die each year due to pregnancy or childbirth.
Before advanced medical technology, childbirth was extremely risky for women. Today, with all the tools we have, we shouldn’t be losing more than a few women each year. So how are the disparities affecting women in the US and causing more deaths and complications than before?
Statistics on Maternal Health Disparities in the United States
Disparities in maternal health largely affect vulnerable groups, often based on race or ethnicity. Maternal mortality rates are far higher among Black and Native American populations, with women in these groups being two to three times more likely to die than white women due to pregnancy-related causes.
These disparities have not changed over time, and are not affected by region. Statistics also show that disparities increase for these groups as a woman ages, with Black women over 30 being up to five times more likely to die due to maternal health complications. Even higher levels of education, which reduce the risk of maternal death for white women, do not protect Black and Native women, and in fact, increase the gap once again.
Are There Racial Issues within Maternal Health Disparities?
Looking at the statistics, it’s almost impossible to deny that race and ethnicity are huge factors in maternal health disparities in the United States. The data shows that women of color, particularly Black and Native American women, are not given access to the same resources and care that white women are. The United States has the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality among developed countries and the fact that Black and Native women are bearing the worst of the country’s healthcare failings is unacceptable.
Black and Native women often do not receive quality care during their pregnancies and may not be believed when they report pain or other complications. They may be unable to maintain a healthy diet during their pregnancy due to food deserts. The structural racism that exists at every level of society in the United States presents obstacles to good maternal health at every stage of pregnancy for these groups.
Ways to Improve Maternal Health Disparities
Now that we know just how serious these problems are, it’s time to think about solutions. What can we do to reduce maternal health disparities and reduce the country’s mortality rate for women and babies?
First, we need to make sure that women have access to educational materials about healthy pregnancy. Access to quality healthcare, regular pregnancy monitoring (such as ultrasounds), and prenatal care must be a given. Improving nutrition for pregnant women will involve education as well, but must also address issues like poverty and food deserts.
There are no easy solutions to these disparities, due to the structural inequality in our society. But we cannot give up on mothers and babies who deserve the best care possible. To improve our society and ensure fair treatment for all, we have to start at the very beginning and make sure that women get the resources and care they need during pregnancy.