How to Support Pregnant Black Women During the Journey to Motherhood
Expectant mothers are magnets for attention. Strangers in elevators comment on their baby bumps. Co-workers offer unprompted advice. Family and friends pass judgment on everything from epidurals to pregnancy diet to breastfeeding.
All that scrutiny could be too much to bear for any mom-to-be. But, it can be especially fraught for Black women. Some may struggle to get quality maternity care, while others face indifference or outright prejudice from doctors and other health professionals. Yet paradoxically, childbirth for these women can be overmedicalized, subjecting Black mothers and their infants to unnecessary stress and harm.
Giving birth is arguably one of life’s most natural acts. But a combination of lack of informed choices, inadequate family and social support, and cultural norms within the Black community can conspire to turn motherhood into a physical peril and an emotional minefield. Consider the following facts:
Approximately 44% of Black women report depressive symptoms two weeks after giving birth, compared to 31% of White women.
Not surprisingly, these racial disparities have spawned widespread fear over childbirth and labor pains among African Americans. "Battling Over Birth,” a report by Black Women Birthing Justice, cites numerous cases of women who felt coerced into medical procedures they didn’t want or fully understand.
The Toll of Pregnancy
For some expectant Black mothers, the joy and anticipation of their pregnancy can be overshadowed by the stresses they navigate every day, said Dr. Tonya Davis, core faculty and clinical training director for Counseling@Northwestern, the online Master of Arts in Counseling program from The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
While it may not seem like they would have a direct bearing on a woman’s health, factors such as racism, poverty, family conflicts or even zip codes may exacerbate or even create complications during a pregnancy for women of color.
“The concept of systemic oppression is quite real, and the reality is that everyone does not have equitable access to health care,” Dr. Davis said.
Stereotyping or discrimination by clinicians can directly affect fetal or maternal health. In a national survey, women who reported feeling disrespected by health care providers because of their race, lack of insurance or differing opinions about their medical care were more than twice as likely to skip their follow-up visits after giving birth.
Black mothers also must contend with unique cultural hurdles. Take breastfeeding, for example: Black women face a number of negative cultural influences within the Black community about breastfeeding that play a role in breastfeeding rates. That attitude is one of the legacies of Black women’s historical roles as wet nurses. Wet nurses were Black female slaves, bought by slave owners to nurse their children, which left many slave children without their own mothers to nurse them. Because of this, many black families follow a tradition of using infant formula. And mothers of color often have nowhere to turn for lactation support or easy ways to pump milk while on the job.
Similarly, there are Black families that attach stigma to birth by midwives. They may regard it as a mark of poverty or “backwardness.” The myths, misunderstandings and entrenched customs regarding childbirth can pile up in such a way that women feel denied what should and could be a natural and blissful step into motherhood.
Ensuring “Good Birth”
How do we make giving birth less painful, less stressful and less dangerous?
One way is by providing knowledge and support to empower women to make the best decisions for themselves and their babies. Studies have found that pregnant Black women who are attended by caregivers who shared their ethnicity perceived less pain during labor. And women who gave birth with the help of a doula were less likely to have C-sections. The pivotal factors behind those outcomes were trust and respect for the mothers’ autonomy.
Dr. Davis offers ways that family and counselors can better support expectant women:
Explain the physical, mental and emotional changes happening to their bodies.
Set a baseline for good mental health so women can recognize the signs of pregnancy-related depression and other problems.
Help them prepare for their roles as new mothers, including how to handle the logistical demands.
The road to motherhood is never a solo journey. Everyone from partners and health care providers to co-workers and neighbors can play a role — to listen, reassure, educate and offer loving encouragement. Create what Black Women Birthing Justice calls a “circle of support” and arm yourself with the necessary knowledge to make healthy, informed decisions.
About the Author:
Alexis Anderson is a Sr. Digital PR Coordinator covering K-12 education at 2U, Inc. Alexis supports outreach for their school counseling, teaching, mental health, and occupational therapy programs. [if mso & !supportInlineShapes & supportFields]><span style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif;mso-ascii-theme-font: minor-latin;mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri;mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA'><span style='mso-element:field-begin;mso-field-lock: yes'></span> SHAPE <span style='mso-spacerun:yes'> </span>\* MERGEFORMAT <span style='mso-element:field-separator'></span></span><![endif][if gte vml 1]><v:rect id="Rectangle_x0020_2" o:spid="_x0000_s1026" alt="AAHeadshot.JPG" style='width:24pt;height:24pt; visibility:visible;mso-wrap-style:square;mso-left-percent:-10001; mso-top-percent:-10001;mso-position-horizontal:absolute; mso-position-horizontal-relative:char;mso-position-vertical:absolute; mso-position-vertical-relative:line;mso-left-percent:-10001;mso-top-percent:-10001; v-text-anchor:top' o:gfxdata="UEsDBBQABgAIAAAAIQC75UiUBQEAAB4CAAATAAAAW0NvbnRlbnRfVHlwZXNdLnhtbKSRvU7DMBSF dyTewfKKEqcMCKEmHfgZgaE8wMW+SSwc27JvS/v23KTJgkoXFsu+P+c7Ol5vDoMTe0zZBl/LVVlJ gV4HY31Xy4/tS3EvRSbwBlzwWMsjZrlprq/W22PELHjb51r2RPFBqax7HCCXIaLnThvSAMTP1KkI +gs6VLdVdad08ISeCho1ZLN+whZ2jsTzgcsnJwldluLxNDiyagkxOquB2Knae/OLUsyEkjenmdzb mG/YhlRnCWPnb8C898bRJGtQvEOiVxjYhtLOxs8AySiT4JuDystlVV4WPeM6tK3VaILeDZxIOSsu ti/jidNGNZ3/J08yC1dNv9v8AAAA//8DAFBLAwQUAAYACAAAACEArTA/8cEAAAAyAQAACwAAAF9y ZWxzLy5yZWxzhI/NCsIwEITvgu8Q9m7TehCRpr2I4FX0AdZk2wbbJGTj39ubi6AgeJtl2G9m6vYx jeJGka13CqqiBEFOe2Ndr+B03C3WIDihMzh6RwqexNA281l9oBFTfuLBBhaZ4ljBkFLYSMl6oAm5 8IFcdjofJ0z5jL0MqC/Yk1yW5UrGTwY0X0yxNwri3lQgjs+Qk/+zfddZTVuvrxO59CNCmoj3vCwj MfaUFOjRhrPHaN4Wv0VV5OYgm1p+LW1eAAAA//8DAFBLAwQUAAYACAAAACEAKaOvBfACAACPBgAA HwAAAGNsaXBib2FyZC9kcmF3aW5ncy9kcmF3aW5nMS54bWykVdtu2zAMfR+wfxD07tjOnIuNukWa xN2Gbgua9QMUW4mFyZInKbcN+/dRstO46bCH1g8tJZFHh4ekcnVzqDjaUaWZFCkOewFGVOSyYGKT 4sfvmTfGSBsiCsKloCk+Uo1vrt+/uyLJRpG6ZDkCBKETkuLSmDrxfZ2XtCK6J2sq4GwtVUUMLNXG LxTZA3LF/X4QDP2KMIGvz1AzYgjaKvYKKC7zH7SYErEjGiB5nnR3Wo48fzsyScTuTtXLeqEs8/zr bqEQK1IMyglSgUTYbw9aN1j6F1GbM8BhrSrrL9drdHAoR/vXYdCDQTlsfgiicQD4ORy1dnNH+e0f UXk5/28ckGkuBaNDRNeWhti9zKx/yuyB5tAKG04RbBVU5yrFk8lHSgpdStP7vLh7yv2Eout7qIxG Qk5LCKUTXQMIdBpgnraUkvvSgtjtRi2QtUFwyp3BQOvV/ossQGayNdI1z+sVfFKCJLXS5o7KClkj xQpIOnCyu9em4XRycTLJjHHuisDFsw3AbHageBBqz2wZXVf/joN4Pp6PIy/qD+deFMxm3iSbRt4w C0eD2YfZdDoL/9h7wygpWVFQYa85TVgYvWjfiuVKark2vVxWPvQQy+lpymDGwuA8Y1pyVlg4S0mr zWrKFdoRnuLMfa3yHTf/OQ3XxpDLRUphPwpu+7GXDccjL8qigRePgrEXhPFtPAyiOJplz1O6Z4K+ PSW0T3E86A9clTqkL3IL3PcyN5JUzFCFOKtSDMMFX9O7thHnonClNYTxxu5IYemfpYBynwoNpm5f BXNYumkyh1tZHK1gK/gPzaskNBdMMry4YJRS/cJoD+9oivXPLVEUI/5JwBzEYRSBm3GLaDDqw0J1 T1bdEyJygEqxwagxpwZWELKtFduUcFPoZBJyAkOzZm1DN5wsO67N0hw5dVk75lQUC6LIA3DmMLcp psJ7XLY6ggcke05uq+myto9DMyhN9k4OcLx4il1o+9Nh3/vu+vovAAAA//8DAFBLAwQUAAYACAAA ACEAuiNWF0EGAAANGgAAGgAAAGNsaXBib2FyZC90aGVtZS90aGVtZTEueG1s7FlLj9s2EL4X6H8Q dG/Wb8eLeINdP3bbrJMgdtLmSEu0xJgSBZLejW/9BQUKpEUvBXrroZcA7W9K0aY/okPqYdKmsw9s gaDIGlhIo2+Gw5nRNyT14OHrhHoXmAvC0r5fv1fzPZwGLCRp1Pefz8Zf3Pc9IVEaIspS3PfXWPgP jz7/7AE6DCjJ5gzxcBbjBHtgKBWHqO/HUmaHBwciADES91iGU3i2YDxBEm55dBBydAkDJPSgUat1 DhJEUv8ILEplaEThXyqFEgSUT5UZ7KUogdGfLBYkwBobLusKIdZiQLl3gWjfB5shu5zh19L3KBIS HvT9mv7zD44eHKDDQonKPbqG3lj/FXqFQrhs6DF5NK8GbbXarc5xZV8DqNzFjbqjzqhT2dMAFAQw 09wX22a3MWgVWAOUXzpsD7vDZt3CG/abOz4ft9XPwmtQbr+1gx+PBxBFC69BOb69g2+f9E6Gtn0N yvGdHXy3djxsdS37GhRTki530LV2pzkoZ1tBFoyeOeG9dmvcbRTGNyiohqq61BALlsp9tZagV4yP AaCAFEmSenKd4QUKoCYHiJI5J945iWIovAylTIC41qiNa034r34tfaUzig4xMrSVX+CJ2BEpfzwR cJLJvv8VWPUNyMuVd8pkTIJiVG3E0jhDaWRqvP/1+39+/tb7+/df3r/5IR90Gy9M/BCn0TcEpR8a AGa7CcO7H9/++cfbdz9999dvbxz2jzmam/AZSbDwHuNL7xlLYHKOGeA5v5nGLEbE1DhOI4FSpEZx 2B9B/Ez04zWiyIE7gUiYuBccaMYFPF29shyexnwlicPiozixgBPG6Anjzig8UmMZYZ6t0sg9OF+Z uGcIXbjGHqDUyvNolQG/EpfJQYwtN59SlEoU4RRLTz1jS4wds3tJiBXXCQk4E2whvZfEO0HEGZIZ mVvVtFE6IwnkZe1yEPJtxWbywjth1DXrIb6wkfB2IOpwfoapFcZTtJIocZmcoYSaAT9HMnY5OV3z wMSNhIRMR5gybxRiIVw6TzjM10j6I6AYd9ondJ3YSC7J0mXzHDFmIodsOYhRkrmwU5LGJvZLsYQS Rd5TJl3wCbPfEHUPeQDy2JfuFwRb6b6aDZ4Du5oubQpEPVlxRy5PMbPqd7qmC4Q11QD5W5yekPRK gt+i9vZ/R+0TkgYxc8zorkjdbdrKyA3p/JgT5/t0tkXi+3Db1D1gPCQfP3MP0Sp9iuFl2W1fn4j7 E3H7/3vi3vc+3z1dbxgayFstXfPFul66J3tX7gtC6VSuKT4XevEuoC+FYxAqPb1DxdVOLovhUr3J MICFizjSOh5n8msi42mMMljh131lJBKF6Uh4GROw8Ndip22Fp6tkwsJ8w1qvq81pTh4CyY281q7k sNmQObrT3WzCKvPa20hvlksHlO5NnDAGs51oOpzolkIVJL01h6A5nNAzuxMveg4v7ivzZap2vADX qqzAwsmD5Vbfb7dABZRgT4UoDlWe8lSX2dXJvMtM7wumVQGwiigrYJPpnvJ17/TU7PJSu0amLSeM crOd0JHRPUzEKMRFdSrpddy4aa57m5Ra7qlQ6PGgtDZudO9/yIvb5hr0trmBpiZT0NS77PudZhtK JkBZ31/Axh8ukwxqR6gFL6IRHJkFkucv/G2YJeNCDpGI84Br0snZICESc4+SpO+r6VdpoKnmEO1b vQGE8NE61wNa+dicg6TbScaLBQ6kmXZDoiKd3wLD51zhfKrVbw9WmmwF6Z7G4aU3pyv+DEGJtbt1 FcCQCDj/qefRDAkcaFZEtqm/rcZU0K55oqhrKJcjmsWo6CgmmedwTeWVO/quioFxV8wZAmqEpGiE 80g1WDOoVjetukbuw96ue7WSipxBmpueabGK6ppuFrNGKNvAVixv1+QNr8oQA6eZHT6n7m3K7ZVc t7VOqLoEBLyKn6PrXqMhGK5tBrNcUx7v0rDi7EJq945ygle4dp0mYbB+pzS7FbeqRziHA+GtOj/o bVctiBblulJH2vVxYoIybx7V+z58IIDTiddwBZ8YfJA1lKyhZHAF3w2gXeSH/X2/uCgl8DyXVJhm KWmWmFYpaZWSdilpl5JOKen4nj4Vhy8x6kDc98pDb+hhxSF5sbawv+Ac/QsAAP//AwBQSwMEFAAG AAgAAAAhAJxmRkG7AAAAJAEAACoAAABjbGlwYm9hcmQvZHJhd2luZ3MvX3JlbHMvZHJhd2luZzEu eG1sLnJlbHOEj80KwjAQhO+C7xD2btJ6EJEmvYjQq9QHCMk2LTY/JFHs2xvoRUHwsjCz7DezTfuy M3liTJN3HGpaAUGnvJ6c4XDrL7sjkJSl03L2DjksmKAV201zxVnmcpTGKSRSKC5xGHMOJ8aSGtHK RH1AVzaDj1bmIqNhQaq7NMj2VXVg8ZMB4otJOs0hdroG0i+hJP9n+2GYFJ69elh0+UcEy6UXFqCM BjMHSldnnTUtXYGJhn39Jt4AAAD//wMAUEsBAi0AFAAGAAgAAAAhALvlSJQFAQAAHgIAABMAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAFtDb250ZW50X1R5cGVzXS54bWxQSwECLQAUAAYACAAAACEArTA/8cEAAAAy AQAACwAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA2AQAAX3JlbHMvLnJlbHNQSwECLQAUAAYACAAAACEAKaOvBfACAACP BgAAHwAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAgAgAAY2xpcGJvYXJkL2RyYXdpbmdzL2RyYXdpbmcxLnhtbFBLAQIt ABQABgAIAAAAIQC6I1YXQQYAAA0aAAAaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAE0FAABjbGlwYm9hcmQvdGhlbWUv dGhlbWUxLnhtbFBLAQItABQABgAIAAAAIQCcZkZBuwAAACQBAAAqAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMYLAABj bGlwYm9hcmQvZHJhd2luZ3MvX3JlbHMvZHJhd2luZzEueG1sLnJlbHNQSwUGAAAAAAUABQBnAQAA yQwAAAAA " filled="f" stroked="f"> <o:lock v:ext="edit" aspectratio="t"></o:lock> <w:wrap type="none"></w:wrap> <w:anchorlock></w:anchorlock> </v:rect><![endif][if gte vml 1]><v:shapetype id="_x0000_t75" coordsize="21600,21600" o:spt="75" o:preferrelative="t" path="m@4@5l@4@11@9@11@9@5xe" filled="f" stroked="f"> <v:stroke joinstyle="miter"></v:stroke> <v:formulas> <v:f eqn="if lineDrawn pixelLineWidth 0"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @0 1 0"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum 0 0 @1"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @2 1 2"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @0 0 1"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @6 1 2"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @8 21600 0"></v:f> <v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f> <v:f eqn="sum @10 21600 0"></v:f> </v:formulas> <v:path o:extrusionok="f" gradientshapeok="t" o:connecttype="rect"></v:path> <o:lock v:ext="edit" aspectratio="t"></o:lock> </v:shapetype><![endif][if mso & !supportInlineShapes & supportFields]><span style='font-size:12.0pt;font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif;mso-ascii-theme-font: minor-latin;mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri;mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language: EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA'><v:shape id="_x0000_i1025" type="#_x0000_t75" style='width:24pt;height:24pt'> <v:imagedata croptop="-65520f" cropbottom="65520f"></v:imagedata> </v:shape><span style='mso-element:field-end'></span></span><![endif]
Got something to say? BWBJ publishes blogs by black women on issues related to birth justice. Contact us for more details.