by Dr. Todd Allen, MD, Walterboro OB/GYN

The U.S. still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world. Nationally, black women are nearly three times as likely to die from a maternal cause as white women. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that in 2020, the maternal mortality rate for black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, while the same rate for white women was 19.1.

The need for individualized, respectful, and equitable care is paramount when it comes to the health and safety of our moms and babies. We build trust with our patients through open communication and providing timely, quality care to everyone. We listen, address concerns, and work hard to make them feel heard, understood, and cared for during their visits and throughout their care.

It's important for black women to understand the urgent maternal warning signs and the need to seek medical attention right away because there are some other health issues that tend to be more severe in women of color.

For example, pre-eclampsia affects up to 15% of pregnancies worldwide, but when black women have pre-eclampsia it often presents earlier and is more likely to be severe. It's important to know your risk factors and listen to your body. We tell our patients if they are experiencing anything out of the ordinary like severe headaches, vision changes, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations to call us immediately.

The postpartum period is critically important. Up to 45 percent of maternal deaths happen in the weeks after delivery, a time when people are generally more removed from medical care and their regular support systems. It's also important to note that postpartum medically and physiologically — is at least the entire year after birth, as this is how long the physical changes of pregnancy persist.

And it's important to note that a postpartum plan with planned check-ins with their provider is key for all women, but especially women of color. I sit with my patients and we talk about how to best prepare for their postpartum experience and plan regular checkups to address any pre-existing risk factors or health issues that arose during pregnancy like gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia.