April 11–April 17 is Black Maternal Health Week, a week dedicated to amplifying the stories of Black mothers and elevating effective policies and solutions to eliminate racism, bias, and inequities in maternal care. To celebrate Black Maternal Health Week, Ready, Set, Soar Ohio has invited members of the Ready, Set, Soar coalition to participate in a Black maternal health Q&A. Throughout the week, we will be sharing Q&A articles featuring different experts on a range of topics related to Black maternal health.
Q: What resources are most beneficial to new mothers and their babies? Are there resources that specialize in supporting Black mothers?
The transition in the postpartum period is particularly unique and can be challenging. This is a time when mothers are healing from their deliveries, learning how to provide for their new babies, learning how to breastfeed, and welcoming change to their family units. Given all these changes, it is often a period that can also be marked by postpartum depression due to hormonal changes and social stressors. It is imperative that moms have the support they need to navigate the postpartum process. This support must be consistent, predictable, and reliable.
At Moms2B, we provide one-on-one support with our multidisciplinary team and group education sessions to provide a larger sense of community. As our moms enroll in our program during pregnancy, they are already situated to have the support they need when they welcome their new babies. Our program serves predominantly non-Hispanic Black moms in Franklin County and has been proven to decrease the infant mortality rate in our participants. Through education and connection, our moms are empowered to navigate pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
Q: How can the community better support Black mothers during their pregnancy and after the birth of their child?
The first thing we can do to ensure the best outcome for Black mothers is listen to them. This needs to be done in the exam rooms, in the community and at the state level. At Moms2B, our goal is to empower our mothers to be able to live their best and healthiest lives for themselves and their families. We do this through consistent support and empower our mothers with health literacy in order to best self-advocate. We must make it easier as a community for mothers to navigate pregnancy and we can do this through needs assessments and eliminating as many barriers as possible to care and resources. One of the benefits of our program is that we are multi-disciplinary team and can connect our mothers to various resources based on their needs. The idea of a “one-stop-shop” to ease the stress of navigating various systems can ensure moms get what they need in a timely manner. There needs to be more systems in place like this in our community which takes the stress off moms in order for them to be able to focus on their health and their families.
Q: How has your organization responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure moms-to-be and new mothers have access to the support they need?
We all know that pregnancy and parenting is a period marked by the need for support and connection. During the COVID-19 pandemic we were all challenged due to social distancing mandates and many people were left feeling isolated. Traditionally, Moms2B is an in-person community program which meets in 8 neighborhoods which hold the highest risk for infant mortality. Instead of our in-person education sessions where we are able to connect and provide resources along with a heart healthy meal, we had to pivot to meet the needs of our moms. We transitioned to a virtual model where we provided group prenatal and parenting education sessions via Zoom. In addition to our group sessions, multi-disciplinary team members would reach out to mothers and complete check ins and need assessments. We connected our moms with masks, we partnered with area food pantries and were also able to coordinate provision of donations and food to mothers in need. Most recently, we have begun efforts to ensure moms who want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 have access to do so. While the pandemic put many things on hold, we knew that the needs of our moms would be ever-present and we were there to help them navigate the challenging times.
Q: From your perspective, where are we as a state when it comes to Black maternal health?
As a state, we are making progress in some areas but overall, we have a long way to go. The fact that the infant mortality rate is still 2-3 times higher in the Black community and that the maternal mortality rate is also 2-3 times higher in Black community is a testament that we still have a lot of work to do. This disparity has persisted, and we can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that there needs to be large change which addresses the structural racism at play in these disparities. With Moms2B, we have seen significant improvements in the infant mortality rate for participants in our program in Columbus and we only hope that this continued focus will help bring resources and support to the mothers. Ohio has the ability to be a leader in addressing these disparities in health to ensure equity for all birthing people and the time is now to focus on these efforts to ensure that we do not continue to disproportionately lose Black women and infants.
Q: What will it take to get where we need to be? What are things that policymakers, government agencies, and health care providers must do to address racial disparities in maternal health?
The very first thing is that we all must recognize that these disparities are present and that they are a problem. Every Ohioan should know the disparities exist and should be empowered to improve the system to ensure equity. While racial disparities have existed far too long, we are encouraged that the spotlight in the recent years has been on how to ameliorate these rates. As a community we have to make it a goal to address these disparities and decide that they cannot persist.
Additionally, it will require the stakeholders to listen to Black mothers and their communities to see what the best way will be to support and help them. Assumptions cannot be made about what the best programs are, and it is imperative that the voices of the mothers and their communities are present in the planning. In concert with awareness comes the need for Anti-Racism training for all stakeholders, health care providers and community members to ensure the vestiges of structural racism do not continue. In this new era, we are confident that the needs of our Black mothers will be addressed to ensure the very best health for everyone in our community.
Dr. Kami Dixon-Shambley is the Medical Director at Moms2B. Learn more about Moms2B at wexnermedical.osu.edu/obstetrics-gynecology/pregnancy/moms2b