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Why we as care professionals fail at protecting our black mothers and babies

This week is Black Maternal Health Week 2022. It is a week dedicated to raising awareness about black maternal health, spotlighting injustice in the global healthcare sector, and helping people - be they businesses, medical professionals or mums - understand what they can do to combat the problem.

To understand the realities black mothers are facing, we spoke to Djanifa da Conceicao. Djanifa is a black midwife working in the Netherlands and one of Lola&Lykke experts. She spoke about the lack of diversity that she has seen throughout her medical career, and the urgent need for this to change.

Lola&Lykke Expert

“Since September 2015, I have been working as a midwife in primary care in the Netherlands, Rotterdam. Immediately after graduating, I started working as a midwife with a practice positioned in a deprived area, where I myself lived during my midwifery education.

“We currently live in a time where society has opened up a large number of big taboos for discussion. Major movements, such as Me Too and the Black Lives Matter, have contributed enormously to this. Another key area of developing awareness is the increasing acknowledgment of a higher maternal mortality rate in women of black (African) descent.

“One of the taboos that I live in, on a daily basis, is working in a 'white world'.

“When I registered for midwifery education in 2011, I noticed that I was one of few black women present.

“But, most importantly, the training material from which I learned consisted of descriptions and images of only pregnant white people.

“And in the places where I did my internship, these images looked the same as the world in which I completed my training, filled with white midwives and doctors. This lack of diversity continued through to the practices and the hospitals where I was finally employed.

“Have you ever tried to Google an image of a pregnant woman’s anatomy? Does a black anatomy model appear, at any point? Spoiler alert - you will find it very hard to find one. They hardly ever exist.

“Now, some may argue that it feels non-essential for there to be any representative images of black women. But, this is indeed a major problem, which is an attributing factor for the disproportionately high rate of death of black mothers and their children.

“This is a form of deeply integrated, institutional racism, rooted in our healthcare system at the most basic level. It is a form of racism that is not easily recognized, but because of that, it creates even more harmful consequences.

“Recent diverse studies have revealed that a (white) care provider will give a different quality of care to a native pregnant woman (of white skin color) than they do to a pregnant woman of a different ethnic (black) origin.

“Some care providers will miss important health signs on dark-skinned black mothers, simply because they do not know how to look for or recognize abnormalities. This occurs because the textbooks and guidelines we learn from fail to include information that is essential to the recognition and treatment of people with darker skin colors.

“If unchecked, this flaw in the care professionals' education will contribute to poorer outcomes for black mothers and babies.

“Birth care must be a reflection of society and so must the books we learn from!”

Why does Black Maternal Health Week exist?

A report published in January 2021 revealed that, in the UK, black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. They are also statistically more likely than white women to experience long-term, severe health problems post-pregnancy, and for their baby to die either in the womb or shortly after their birth.

This trend also extends to America, where research has revealed that black women (regardless of their background or income) are up to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related causes than white women. Furthermore, they are significantly more likely to die due to preventable pregnancy complications.

Black Maternal Health Week

Black Maternal Health Week is run by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, with the aim of combating the frightening racial disparity in maternity care.

It is a week-long series of campaigns, activism and community building activities, which:

“Serve to amplify the voices of Black Mamas and center the values and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements. Activities during BMHW are rooted in human rights, reproductive justice, and birth justice frameworks.”

This year’s Black Maternal Health Week is celebrated from the 11th - 17th of April.

Throughout this week, you can learn more about the problems affecting the global healthcare system, understand what is causing this disparity, and find out what you can do to help.

What can you - as a mother, care professional or company - do to help?

If you are a mother and you want to do your bit to help, Djanifa’s advice to you would be:

“Look around at the places where you receive care. Do the images on the wall, the anatomy models or the books only represent white people? If you notice this, let them know! You might change their perspective on how inclusive their practice or hospital is.

“For all of us to have a meaningful impact, we need everyone to recognise and talk about black maternal health.” 

 

As a brand or organization, you can support the hard work of charities and institutions, paving the way for change. These include the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the national partnership for women & families, Sista Midwife Productions and birthrights. Through this, you can achieve an incredibly far-reaching impact.

For instance, The Positive Birth Company has published an Anti-Racism Manifesto, which is remarkably transparent and impactful. It outlines the company’s 12 month commitment, and the work that it is doing to fund key initiatives.

At Lola&Lykke, we work with and are proud supporters of Every Mother Counts. To help support mothers of all backgrounds, we also launched a free of charge and completely discreet Ask our Expert service, to provide all mums with instant access to accessible, evidence-based information.

By making meaningful donations and publishing a breakdown of your charitable work, you can raise awareness amongst your audience and foster a culture of support and understanding.

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