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New study reveals gross inequity in way Black women are treated during childbirth

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NEW YORK — Black women are at a significant disadvantage while pregnant and giving birth.

That’s according to a new study that shows Black women and babies die at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts, regardless of income.

Journalist, author and entrepreneur Kimberly Seals-Allers was a graduate student at Columbia University when she gave birth to her first child in the city.

“I delivered at a highly regarded hospital, but I walked out feeling disrespected, unseen and traumatized. My questions were not always answered. I had a C-section that I still can’t fully explain. After delivery, I was clear that I was breastfeeding. My baby was repeatedly given infant formula against my wishes,” Seals-Allers said. “It definitely clouded the early days and years of my motherhood journey.”

RELATED STORY: Black maternal health week advocates pregnancy equality

A National Bureau of  Economic Research study revealed gross inequity in the way Black women are treated during childbirth, regardless of socioeconomic status. In fact, the study showed the richest Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die than the richest white mothers and their babies. Current New York City Health Department data shows Black mothers are eight times as likely as white mothers to die in childbirth, regardless of income. 

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“That means they’re getting it right for some but not for all,” Seals-Allers said.

Seals-Allers turned her pain into purpose, creating “Irth,” an app where Black mothers can share their birthing experiences at specific hospitals with specific providers. The data is then shared with hospitals with the hope of improving equity.

“Transparency and accountability are critical for us to achieve birth equity,” Seals-Allers said.

Dr. Diana Romero, head of the Maternal Health Department at CUNY, said it all points to the need for “cultural humility” in the health care system, where doctors and nurses are trained to treat each patient equally, regardless of race.

RELATED STORY: ‘It’s Disgusting, It’s Inhumane’: Fathers Who Lost Partners To Pregnancy Complications Shine Light On Medical Disparities For Black Women

When asked if Black women need more advocates within the hospital to make sure they’re properly treated, Romero said, “Everyone probably should be better advocates for themselves when it comes to health care, but to expect people to advocate more so that they get the same is a little, to me, backward.”

Over the long term, Romero said policy changes are needed to make health care more accessible and affordable before and during pregnancy, and hospitals need to implement strong training against unconscious bias.

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In the short term, she recommends establishing a good relationship with your OBGYN throughout pregnancy and making your wishes clearly known. She also recommends hiring a doula if financially feasible, or even bringing an outspoken family member or friend to the hospital who can speak up on your behalf.

Source: CBS

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