Here’s How Racism Impacts Pregnancy Outcomes

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

Racism hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just changed from the traditional plantation owner into mass incarceration and many other tactics. And underneath the intricate healthcare system of the United States — much like any other part of the country — lies a deeply ingrained foundation of racism. This isn’t new information, but you may not realize how severely racism affects maternal health. So, keep reading to find out how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes.

Saddening Statistics

According to a study by the Midwives Alliance of North America — MANA — in 2013, there were 3.9 million births. African American women had approximately 583,834 births in 2013.

Here are a few important terms to know when trying to understand how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes:

  • Preterm:  a baby born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed normal
  • Low birth weight: a baby born weighing less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces)
  • Very low birth weight: babies who are born weighing less than 1,500 grams (3 pounds, 4 ounces)

16% of the black children were preterm, 8.5% were low birthweight, 2.6% were very low birth weight.

In contrast, 10% of white children were preterm, 4.6% were low birth weight, and 1.06% were very low birth weight.

In comparing these statistics, based on race alone, African American mothers are twice as likely to experience child-bearing issues as a white mother.

woman holding boy
Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Why Does This Happen?

The appalling statistics show you how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes, but not why. But don’t worry, I’ll give you the why. 

As you know, racism may not be the same as the time of the African Diaspora, but it certainly has not left. And though there are plenty of instances of racism in healthcare, specifically, here’s why racism affects pregnancy outcomes.  

American Progress is an organization that focuses on the improvement of American lives. In an article by American Progress, they explain how racism impacts pregnancy outcomes. They state that one reason African American women face increased rates of maternal issues is structural racism in health care. The structural racism that inevitably leads to inferior care compared to white women.

Unfortunately, the issue is more widespread than just African Americans. American Progress reports Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Latino communities experience much higher rates of pregnancy issues than white counterparts.

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While structurally ingrained racism is a direct result of the health care system. The term “weathering” is indirectly responsible for the tremendous number of maternal issues.

Weathering is a term coined by Arline Geronimus — who was a public health researcher and research professor at the University of Michigan — as:

  • Weathering is the process by which societal things like institutional racism and extreme stress break African American women down little by little. Before you know it, the damage is done, and it many, many affects aspects of her life.

Geronimus fought for the validity of the concept. Many scientists discounted her and argued that racial disparities were a result of poor choices by minorities. But Geronimus battled and proved her theory through complex DNA and behavioral studies.  

The term — weathering — is now accepted worldwide by social scientists and researchers. And maternal complications are most definitely attributed to weathering. 

doctors walking down hospital hallway
Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Here’s What We Can Do

I know after reading the horrible reality that minority women face every day, you must want to help. Right? Well, this is especially for the physicians out there, I’ll help you out. No, rather, you’ll be helping me out in this fight for equality.

Physicians and communities must recognize that the suffering of one is the suffering of many. Don’t ignore the racism or the inequities. Don’t claim “color blindness.” We must acknowledge different races because when you ignore their skin color, you ignore their struggle.

Here are 5 methods to help:

  1. Recognize barriers that minority women face and work to dismantle them.
  1. Promote equity inpatient exams.
  1. Strengthen programs that benefit minorities.
  1. Simplify enrollment across public benefit programs
  1. Train health care workers to be able to identify racism and how to eradicate it

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