As we honor and celebrate Black History Month, we also recognize the unique support needs that Black families have during the perinatal period. Carrie Byrd, Central Carolina Doulas postpartum doula and Editor for PsychCentral.com, shares how making the connection between how social, cultural, and historical factors contribute to the health of Black pregnant people can drive the understanding behind the maternity healthcare disparities in America today.
According to the CDC, mental health conditions are reported to be the leading cause for maternal mortality during pregnancy or within the first year of postpartum. In addition, cardiac and coronary conditions were indicated to be the leading cause of mortality for Black women.
Black mothers are faced with everyday stressors that can impact their psychological and physical health. Understanding how these stressors affect the health of Black women is necessary in order to address maternity healthcare disparities in America today.
It can also help medical professionals and policy makers make a clear connection between how social, cultural, and historical factors contribute to the health of Black pregnant people.
Understanding maternal mental health disparities
Chronic stress in Black women is often linked to racism, discrimination, and socioeconomic disadvantages. Dealing with such stressors can manifest as chronic heart conditions which are associated with depressive symptoms.
This indicates that depressive symptoms can present themselves differently in Black women. Especially since somatic symptoms of chronic heart conditions, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, tend to overlap with symptoms of mental health conditions.
In turn, there’s an increased chance that symptoms of mental illness may be undiagnosed.
It should also be noted that mood disorders, such as depression, can affect the nonpregnant partner.
A small study of Black expectant mothers and fathers suggests that high levels of conflict with a partner and a lack of social support can lead to increased depressive symptoms in both parents.
The following factors can also contribute to postpartum depression in Black women:
- Reduced access to professional support
- Previous diagnosis of depression
- Lack of trust in the healthcare system
The review also indicates that, compared to white women, Black women are more likely to report symptoms of depression. But, due to cultural stigma regarding mental health, they’re less likely to seek treatment.
Medical professionals, such as obstetricians and primary care doctors, should consider this information to help them reevaluate how mental health screenings are conducted.
Bridging the gap
A study from 2023 focused on 18 Black women who experienced pre-pregnancy chronic hypertension, diabetes, obesity, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.
Their findings suggest that increased awareness of how various factors, such as racial bias, affects the health of Black women is essential in understanding how systematic policies can:
- Improve trauma informed and patient-centered care
- Address social determinants of health
- Adopt strategies that reduce disparities and increase healthcare utilization
But advocating for change is not only important in systematic policies. Creating resources for community education and support can also address inequities.
Researchers suggest that prioritizing ways to improve maternal mental health and centering Black parents in educational parenting programs improves parenting experiences.
Doing so can also encourage a secure attachment style. Ultimately, aiding in the overall well-being and development of infants.
If you’re in need of support, you’re not alone. Doulas and mental health professionals specialized in perinatal support can help you during this time.
Consider the following resources for help:
- Schedule a free consultation with Central Carolina Doulas to hire a birth or postpartum doula
- Join a childbirth education class to prepare for birth, caring for your newborn, and more
- Schedule an appointment with a maternal mental health specialist at LATCH Breastfeeding and Postpartum Wellness Center
- Consider joining a virtual support group with Postpartum Support International
- Call or text the Postpartum Support International hotline for mental health support at 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD)
- If you’re experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988
Carrie Byrd is an editor of a mental health website and postpartum doula who is passionate about creating safe spaces that encourage people to discover their boundless potential through self-awareness and mindful living. Carrie holds special interests in children’s development, perinatal mental health, and decriminalizing mental illness in Communities of Color.