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Pregnancy can be 3 times more deadly for these women. How doctors are trying to fix that.

Pregnant woman at home
Posted at 5:58 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 19:12:50-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Each year, about 700 women in the United States die during pregnancy or in the year after, according to the CDC. Black mothers are impacted at an even higher rate.

According to the CDC, pregnancy can be three times more deadly for Black women compared to white women.

"It's really unfortunate when you have patients who come in and this is supposed to be the happiest time of their life, you know. Talking about their pregnancy and they're scared if they're going to become a statistic," Dr. Myrlene Jeudy, an OBGYN at VCU Medical Center, said.

Jeudy also teaches medical students at the university. She said she has felt the agony that Black mothers often experience while they are pregnant.

"Being a mother myself and delivering my two children just recently, it was a scary time," Jeudy said.

The CDC lists a number of factors that can cause the disparity in maternal health, including quality of health care, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias. Experts said that having money and being educated doesn't change this tragic reality for Black women.

"All Black women face the same disparities when it comes to Black maternal health," Jeudy said.

Several policies have been introduced to improve maternal health and equity across the country. In 2021, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris brought attention to what they call a health crisis devastating Black women.

This month during Black Maternal Health Week, the administration renewed its commitment to Black maternal mortality and morbidity.

"It's going to take a lot of work to undo 400 plus years of things that have happened," Hannah Ming, a doctoral student at VCU, said.

Ming's research focuses on improving health care, specifically as it relates to Black maternal health. Ming said she is encouraged by the growing amount of awareness surrounding the topic.

"It's very gratifying to be a part of this process which shows that there's a new generation of scholars coming forward who are very much focused in this work. It's encouraging to find students like me who are very interested in Black maternal health. It just gives me hope for the future," Ming said.

"Not a day goes by where I don't hear that comment at least three times from a patient saying, I'm so happy to have a Black doctor," Dr. Tashima Giles, an OBGYN at VCU, said.

She said experience has taught her it is easier for people to connect with doctors who look like them. She encourages more people of color to choose a career in medicine to save more lives.

"I know that it's a really hard road to get to medicine and there's a lot of speed bumps, particularly for people of color attempting to enter this field. But just continue to try. Continue to knock down those barriers because the more of us that's here, the easier it gets for the people behind us and our patients. So just keep at it," Giles said.

There are things you can do to make sure you are receiving optimal care. First, find a primary care doctor that you feel comfortable with and make annual visits before you're pregnant.

Once you are pregnant, doctors say it's important to pay attention to warning signs like severe and persistent headaches, extreme swelling of the hands or face or trouble breathing.