TAMPA, Fla. — Some describe it as a silent tragedy, America’s rising maternal mortality rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black American mothers are impacted the most.
“This is serious. Our women are at risk,” Dr. Carolina Hernandez said. “Our maternal mortality rate increases every year, while other developed countries seem to be decreasing.“
According to the CDC, 17 out of 100,000 American mothers are dying yearly. That’s more than double that of other developed countries.
When we look at Black American mothers compared to white American mothers, the numbers are even more shocking.
Black mothers die at three to four times the rate of white mothers. The CDC says it’s one of the widest racial disparities in women’s health.
A Black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to die from cervical cancers and 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes.
“We need to do better for our mothers,” said Dr. Sharon Ingram. “We need to understand that there are many different factors at play here.”
This crisis is personal for Dr. Ingram, for two reasons. She’s Black, and her oldest son died just four months after he was born.
“He died from SIDS. He would have been 21 years old,” she said. “I was in med school at the time and it was devastating.”
SID’s stand for “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.”
Dr. Ingram and Dr. Hernandez are with the Woman’s Group of Tampa. As OBGYNs, they have more than a decade of experience dealing with this crisis.
According to them, SIDs is one factor on a long list of factors contributing to the increasing maternal mortality rate in America. Add to that racism within the health care system, implicit bias against Black and brown women and doctors say you have the main reason Black mothers and Black babies are dying.
“60 percent of maternal mortality can be prevented,” said Dr. Ingram.
Women’s health advocates say doctors need to be aware of their implicit biases, treat every patient with the same respect, ask questions and listen to your patients when they are concerned.
For patients, Dr. Ingram says pre-conception counseling is extremely important.
“I have a golden rule, if you have medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, they need to be controlled for at least six months before getting pregnant,” she said. “That’s why those pre-conception visits are important.”
There’s a big push for new legislation at both the state and federal levels. If the legislation passes, mothers in need will have insurance for up to a year after giving birth instead of 60 days.
“That will help,” said Ingram.
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R) is hoping to get a similar bill passed. Florida Democrats are also pushing for mandatory implicit bias training at all Florida hospitals.