August 26-31, 2019 marks the first Black Maternal Mental Health Week. It’s a week dedicated to creating awareness about the mental health of black moms during and after pregnancy.
Being a mom is one of the most wonderful experiences a woman can have, but it also can be challenging. The physical, psychological and emotional changes can create a lot of stress. For example, you need to learn about what changes in your body are normal and which ones are not. You need to take time off from work or from your studies to go to your prenatal care checkups. You need to make lots of decisions, like who’s going to help you take care of your baby or about your maternity leave plans. Trying to figure out how you are going to pay for baby gear, medical costs, and many other expenses that you will incur can be stressful. For some moms, the challenges are serious like having preeclampsia, premature birth, or having a baby in the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU.) All these adjustments, decision-making and sometimes serious health problems create anxiety and stress, increasing the risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (also called PMADs).
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs)
PMADs are the most common complication of pregnancy. PMADs include depression during pregnancy, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and postpartum depression (also called PPD), among others.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (also called ACOG), about 20 percent of women around the world or 1 out of 5 women has PMAD. The risk factors associated with PMADs affect more black women than white women in the United States. Some of these risk factors are health-related and some are related to unequal conditions in our society:
- Not having access to quality medical care or not having medical care
- Financial barriers like not having paid time off from work
- Being more likely to have complications like premature birth and infant mortality
- Living in an unsafe neighborhood
- Chronic stress due to racism
Higher risk, less treatment
Black women are at a higher risk for PMADs, compared to white women, but they are less likely to get treatment or to receive quality mental health care. Some of the reasons are:
- Black women face more barriers receiving mental health care
- Fewer black women are screened for PMADs and they are less likely to receive mental health follow-ups
- Fear of being labeled as an unfit mom
- Lack of trust in the health care system
- It’s common for black women to mention physical symptoms related to mental health problems, instead of their emotions. But providers can miss the diagnosis because many are unaware of these cultural differences.
The consequences of these disparities are devastating for black families. PMADs increase the risk of:
- Smoking, drinking alcohol and opioids use disorder in women
- Pregnancy-related deaths
- Having a premature baby, low birthweight baby or a baby small for gestational age
- Having a baby in the NICU
- Babies not getting medical care if they are sick
- Not following safety practices which may put the baby at risk of injuries
These are complex issues with complex solutions. March of Dimes is committed to reducing racial disparities in our country. Through our advocacy work at the federal, state and local level, we promote health equity by addressing social determinants of health, racism and unfairness so every pregnancy and every baby can be healthy. Our priorities include:
- Ensuring access to health care for all moms and babies. We advocate to expand access to Medicaid, including extended coverage for moms after delivery.
- Support policies and programs to help prevent maternal mortality, with a focus on health equity.
- Advancing policies to support moms and reduce health disparities in the workplace.
- Support efforts such as smoking prevention and cessation and more access to progesterone treatment that can help reduce the risk of having a preterm birth.
We need you to use your voice to speak up for all moms and babies.
Join our Advocacy Action Center and reach your representatives with messages of support for strong moms and babies. We need thousands of voices to persuade policymakers to pass laws and regulations that promote the health of women, their babies and their families.
We won’t stop fighting to level the playing field so that all moms and babies are healthy. Because when a society supports every family, the future is brighter for us all.