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7 Startling Stats about WOC and Pregnancy you Need to Know

7 Startling Stats about WOC and Pregnancy you Need to Know

The Lilu team hails from different countries, and our teammates are of many different colors and races. But we know we too need to listen and learn how to be better allies, not only now, but always.

For us, that means talking not only about the systemic violence that police use against black Americans, but also about issues that plague Black families and mothers in particular. 

We’re starting with this blog post, which outlines 7 not-so-great stats surrounding WOC and pregnancy. Some of these are painful to let sink in, but awareness is the first step to actual change. 

1. The pregnancy related mortality rate for black women with a college degree or higher is 5x that of white women with similar education. — CDC

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as later reported in an article for The New York Times, African-American women (as well as Native America and Alaska Native women) die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate about three times higher than those of white women. The gap in mortality rate increases for WOC and white women with a college degree or higher. 

Researchers note that 60 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths can be prevented with better health care, communication and support, as well as access to housing and transportation. It’s therefore more important than ever to close the gaps in the care (or lack thereof) these women are receiving, so that these deaths are prevented.  

2. A greater proportion of the deaths among black women occurred in the later postpartum period, between seven weeks and a year after the delivery, compared with white women. — CDC

“When we look at the proportion of pregnancy related deaths by cause, the proportion due to cardiomyopathy has been increasing. It can occur in all women, but it is more common among black women.” — Dr. Lisa Hollier, immediate past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 

To get a better idea of maternal deaths among women, here are some numbers to consider: 

  • For every 100,000 live births, the mortality rate for white women is 13 (the rate for Hispanic women is lower, at 11.4). 
  • This is compared to African-American women, who have considerably higher numbers: 42.8 for every 100,000 live births, and for Native American/Alaska Native women, that number drops slightly, to 32.5. 

Another report found that more than half of pregnancy-related deaths occurred after the day of the delivery, and the heightened risk to a new mother persisted for as long as a year. (as reported in the NYT). 

3. Women of color have been found more likely to experience postpartum mental illness, but are less likely to receive treatment. — Keepe, Brownstein-Evans, & Rouland Polmateer, 2016)

In the United States, postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 mothers. Postpartum depression can include extreme sadness, anxiety and exhaustion, among other symptoms. As it’s a mood disorder, it can begin in pregnancy and last for several months after a mom gives birth. In these cases, doctors typically prescribe a general antidepressant, such as fluoxetine (aka Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). 

The tricky thing is, that advances to treat postpartum depression are only helping mothers whose needs are identified in the first place, and this is a unique challenge for women of color. Not only are WOC moms more likely to suffer from postpartum depression and other mental illnesses, but they are less likely to receive treatment than their white counterparts. 

Not treating postpartum depression can be very serious for both the mom and the baby. For example, babies might struggle to form a secure attachment with their mother, which has been linked with the risk of developing behavioral issues and cognitive impairments later in life. (source: KHN

4. Black women are three more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than white women. — CDC

This number is so high that it is partly why the overall rate of pregnancy-related deaths has climbed so high in the past twenty years. So much so, that it’s made the maternal mortality rate in the United States the worst in any industrialized country, according to a 2016 analysis published in the journal The Lancet and referenced here

"It's basically a public health and human rights emergency because it's been estimated that a significant portion of these deaths could be prevented.” — Dr. Ana Langer, director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston

Langer adds that black women are undervalued. “They are not monitored as carefully as while women are. When they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed.”  

Please help us manifest this necessary option by donating to The Birth Center Equity Fund. This fund supports women-of-color owned and led birth centers. There’s only 9 out of 350+ women-of-color owned birth centers in the US.

5. African American women have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation (at 60%), as well as continuation at 6 months and 12 months, compared with all other racial/ethnic groups in the United States. — Breastfeeding Medicine

As reported on Breastfeeding Medicine, mothers with lower rates of breastfeeding tend to be young, low-income, African American, unmarried, less educated, overweight or obese before pregnancy, and more likely to report their pregnancy was unintended. 

The report also highlights just how beneficial breastfeeding is for all mothers and infants, but especially for minority women. “Minority women are disproportionately affected by adverse health outcomes, which may improve with breastfeeding.”

Sending a little shoutout to the Chocolate Milk Café, a peer-to-peer support platform for families who identify as part of the African Diaspora providing human milk to their young. You can donate to their initiatives here: https://www.paypal.me/chocolatemilkcafe 

6. “Infant mortality rates are twice as high for African American babies than white babies, and breastfeeding is the key to saving infant lives.” — Minority Nurse

Studies have also pointed to breastfeeding as a way to decrease the risk for obesity in the infant during childhood. There are many benefits to breastfeeding (some lesser known ones we highlighted here) including decreasing the risk of common childhood illnesses like upper respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma. 

There are also longer-term benefits such as lowering the risk of obesity, future diabetes risk, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Mothers who breastfeed also reap the rewards; they decrease their risk for diabetes and cancer (breast, uterine and ovarian). 

7. “The shaming some women endure is enough to discourage them from continuing to breastfeed even if they have chosen to do so initially.” — Minority Nurse

Last but certainly not least, is the effect shaming has on a woman’s decision to breastfeed in public. “The indecency claims of public breastfeeding generalizations make it hard for any woman, let alone an African American woman, to nurture her child through breastfeeding,” highlights Minority Nurse

Societal pressures are also heavy on all women, and especially WOC. These include not having a national maternity leave law and not having enough designated breastfeeding areas in restrooms. Breastfeeding is hard enough without these added hurdles to get over. 

For this month Lilu is supporting a national organization that has been working for over a decade to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mom and we’ll donate 10% of proceeds to Every Mother Counts (@everymomcounts) We stand with Black moms and dads.

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