Maternal Mortality, Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities and How to Advocate for Yourself

Shannon M. Clark, MD
October 13, 2021
Maternal Mortality, Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities and How to Advocate for Yourself

A few stats on maternal mortality

As an OBGYN, my goal is to deliver a healthy baby to a healthy patient. In fact, that should be the goal of all obstetrical care providers. However, we know, both in the medical community and as members of society, that healthcare is not equal and equitable for all pregnant persons. This inequality contributes to unnecessary loss of lives each year.

Over 700 pregnant persons die each year in this country from problems related to pregnancy and/or delivery. Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) pregnant persons are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts–and this disparity increases with age.

2/3 of pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented. As many as 50,000 pregnant persons experience severe, unexpected health problems related to pregnancy that may have long-term health consequences.

Learn about maternal mortality and health disparities from two Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialists

In this discussion with Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist, Dr. Chinedu Nwabuobi (@perinatalcaremd), we discuss why this is happening and more, including:

  • how pregnancy changes contribute to maternal mortality
  • what is an MMRC, definition of pregnancy-related vs pregnancy associated death, key findings, racial/ethnic disparities in deaths and underlying causes of deaths, top 3 leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths
  • pregnancy mortality surveillance system: definition of the pregnancy-related mortality ratio, racial/ethnic disparities
  • how to advocate for yourself and others
  • the Kira Johnson Act: please go to @4kira4moms to learn about Kira Johnson and to send a letter to your local senators and representatives to support this act
Maternal Mortality

Normal changes in pregnancy versus urgent maternal warning signs

During pregnancy, a person’s body goes through many changes. These changes are entirely normal, but may become very important in cases where there are complications or problems. Recognizing the urgent warning signs, getting an accurate and timely diagnosis, and quality care can save lives.

A person knows their own body better than anyone and can often tell when something does not feel right. If you feel like something is “off” or not right, call your medical provider immediately. Specifically, urgent warning signs and symptoms during pregnancy and in the year after delivery should be addressed quickly by a healthcare provider.

Seek medical care immediately if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms as these symptoms could indicate a life-threatening situation:

  • Headache that won’t go away or gets worse over time
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Changes in your vision
  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Extreme swelling of your hands and face
  • Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or fast-beating heart
  • Severe nausea and throwing up
  • Severe belly pain that doesn’t go away
  • Baby’s movement stopping or slowing during pregnancy
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking during pregnancy
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge after pregnancy
  • Severe swelling, redness, or pain of your leg or arm
  • Overwhelming tiredness

To read more about each of these symptoms click here. The CDC has several great resources available through their Hear Her Campaign.

This topic is not the typical happy topic that expectant or new parents may want to discuss or think about, but educating yourself on health warning signs can save a life. It is important for expectant parents, new parents, partners with new babies, and support persons of new parents to know this information as well.

Additional resources on this topic

When you know what to watch for, you are better able to advocate if something arises. Together, through education, awareness, and advocacy we can reduce the maternal mortality rate.

Listen to the podcast!

Maternal Mortality
Shannon M. Clark, MD

Shannon M. Clark, MD

Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS is a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and founder of Babies After 35. In her roles as a clinician, educator and researcher at UTMB-Galveston, she focuses on the care of people with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy.

Follow Shannon on TikTok @tiktokbabydoc, Facebook @babiesafter35, and Instagram @babiesafter35.

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