with your health in mind

Dr. Glenda Newell-Harris in white coat

In Pregnancy, Speaking Up Is Sometimes a Matter of Life or Death

Dear friends,

When tennis icon Serena Williams shed light on her childbirth ordeal, many were surprised to hear that, despite her fame and wealth, her health care providers still dismissed her concerns about hypertension. Her experience underscored the urgent need to address very real disparities in maternal health care, particularly for Black women.

Despite advances in health care, Black women still face disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality. They are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications – like blood clots, hemorrhages and hypertension – compared to other demographics. These disparities are worsened by biases within the health care system that exacerbate maternal deaths. In addition, Black infant mortality rates remain alarmingly high, emphasizing widespread inequalities in health care access and quality.

Black women still face disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Black maternal health. I had the joy of becoming a grandmother again recently when my daughter gave birth for the second time. This all happened around the time I was appointed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health Advisory Committee.

The committee as a whole is committed to being advocates for the health of minority and ethnic groups everywhere. My personal mission is to see these communities become their own advocates in their health care journey – meaning better engaged and more proactive. In pregnancy, this is at least twice as important, and really can be a matter of life or death.

I know this from personal experience because I’ve seen my own family members and close friends learn to navigate for themselves.

Pregnancy complications can be appropriately managed when cared for by an experienced and knowledgeable physician. But like everything else, you must be aware of what to expect, pay attention to things that happen in your body, and take actionable steps with your provider when you have questions or when things just don’t seem right.

  • Adhere to medical advice: It’s crucial to attend regular medical appointments, especially during pregnancy, and follow recommendations from your health care team. Tests and screenings like blood pressure monitoring, glucose tolerance tests, and ultrasounds are essential for detecting potential threats to you and your baby’s health early on. Trust that your health care providers have your best interests at heart and intervene with the appropriate care when necessary.

  • Advocate for yourself: Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification from your health care provider if you’re uncertain about anything. Your health and well-being are paramount, so it’s important to feel empowered, informed, and heard during your appointments. If something doesn’t feel right in your body, schedule an appointment with your provider to address any concerns promptly.

  • Monitor blood pressure regularly: Hypertension can arise during pregnancy and postpartum, but it can affect anyone. Staying vigilant with regular monitoring is key. Consider investing in a home blood pressure monitor, which can be affordable and convenient. Bring it to your doctor’s appointments to compare results and ensure accuracy. Work with your provider to establish baseline metrics, so you know what’s normal for you. Some insurance plans may cover the cost of a home monitor if you’ve had high readings previously. Check if your doctor’s office offers blood pressure checks as part of routine care.

  • Look out for loved ones: It’s essential to support and advocate for the well-being of those around us, especially Black women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Encourage them to prioritize their health with a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and stress management. By taking proactive steps, they’re contributing to their own and their baby’s health.

Hypertension can arise during pregnancy and postpartum, but it can affect anyone. Staying vigilant with regular monitoring is key.

April is National Minority Health Month. As we shine a spotlight on health disparities that affect communities of color, I ask you to take charge of your health – especially if you are pregnant or know someone who is.

I’m thrilled to say that Serena played a crucial role in the care she eventually received by speaking up for herself. Her persistence ensured that her providers gave the right attention to her and her baby. As I think of the future of Black maternal health, I want to see every mother, regardless of race, receive the quality care she deserves.

With your health in mind,

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