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Health Experts Address Alarming Disparities in Black Maternal Health

Embracing our Community Live!: Advancing Black Maternal Health

Compelling Panel Discussion on Black Maternal Health Inequities Is Free and Available for Streaming

Experts from Cedars-Sinai, BlackDoctors.org, the California Black Women’s Health Project and the Morehouse School of Medicine participated in a recent discussion that addressed the high rate of pregnancy-related deaths among Black mothers.

The one-hour virtual program, Embracing Our Community: LIVE! Advancing Black Maternal Health, focused on why Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women--a disparity that transcends education, socioeconomic status, and even pre-existing health conditions.

Christina Harris, MD“The inequities around black maternal health in America are critical for us to keep at the forefront of our work,” said Christina Harris, MD, vice president and chief health equity officer at Cedars-Sinai, who moderated the discussion. “This issue embodies every challenge we face in healthcare today, from inequitable access to timely and high-quality care to disparate treatments and outcomes.”

Joining Harris was Kimberly Gregory, MD, MPH, vice chair of Women's Healthcare Quality and Performance Improvement in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Cedars-Sinai; Sarah Kilpatrick, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai; Sonya Young Aadam, CEO, California Black Women's Health Project; and Natalie Hernandez, PhD, executive director, Center for Maternal Health Equity at Morehouse School of Medicine.

The complete discussion was recorded and is available to the public at this link.

Panelists identified living conditions and experiences that contributed to Black women’s high maternal mortality rate, such as access to healthcare and prenatal care, trauma, childhood abuse, racism, unconscious bias, and sexism.Kimberly Gregory, MD, MPH

The panelists also discussed the persistence of disparities in Black maternal health across different socioeconomic levels, emphasizing that economic circumstances alone cannot explain inequities. They also stressed the need to eliminate racism in healthcare as well as in the daily lives of Black families, because of racism’s negative impact on health outcomes.

Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity have increased among Black women, leading to complications, including preeclampsia, higher cesarean rates, and an increased risk of bleeding disorders.

"What's happening is that many symptoms experienced by women during pregnancy are often considered typical, when in reality, some of them can be indicative of significant morbidity and mortality,” said Gregory. “As physicians, we must learn to listen and differentiate these symptoms over time.”

Panelists gave advice for pregnant women and their families, emphasizing the importance of open communication with healthcare providers, seeking immediate care for urgent warning signs, documenting pregnancy history, and maintaining healthcare and social support systems throughout the pregnancy journey.

Sarah Kilpatrick, MD, PhD“For years we've had guidelines make in-hospital care better, but most deaths are actually postpartum,” said Kilpatrick. “We need to do a better job of making, what’s now being called the fourth trimester, postpartum care for women after giving birth easier. Make it covered by insurance, provide accessible follow-up, whether virtual or in-person, to ensure mothers can receive care in their own environment.”

Panelists also identified changes in policy and the healthcare delivery system that are essential for improving Black maternal health in the United States. These changes include: 

  • Reviewing the causes behind every maternal death
  • Ensuring access to prenatal and maternal care
  • Addressing social factors like housing, transportation, and food insecurity
  • Increasing diversity among healthcare professionals.

“My hope is sort of echoing Martin Luther King's dream and that one day it won't matter what color your doctor is, that you're going to get the right care at the right time for your right condition,” Gregory said.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: How Cedars-Sinai is Working to Improve Black Maternal Health