DC doctor explains why pregnancy deaths rates among Black women increased since pandemic

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Black women had a maternal mortality rate nearly three times the rate of white women during the pandemic in 2021.

The mortality rate for Black women in 2021 was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.6 times the rate for white women.

Dr. Carla Sandy, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center in D.C., says that “implicit bias and racism” in medical fields negatively impact “how Black women interact with the system.”

She said that while the trend is moving in a positive direction, there is still a need to improve maternity care as a whole.

“I think some of the bigger things that we can do as a society is make high quality care easier to access,” Sandy said. “It does come down to our integration of care; a lot of times our care is fragmented.”

The data from the report also shows the overall death rate rose by nearly 40% due to COVID-19.

Sandy said COVID-19 isn’t entirely to blame, however, and she said that maternal mortality rates have steadily increased regardless over the last three decades.

There are also things people can do even before they’re pregnant to improve their health outcomes during and after childbirth.

She recommends pregnant people should have an advocate and be educated on all prenatal care options.

“If you’re able to get in with care and manage things like diabetes and high blood pressure — those by no means preclude having a pregnancy — but you can have a much healthier pregnancy and better outcome when those conditions are under control,” Sandy said.

“Another important thing is just knowing the signs of complications … knowing what to look for.”

Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is the Evening Digital Editor at WTOP. She is a graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

Cheyenne Corin

Cheyenne Corin joined the WTOP News team in February 2023. Prior to this role she was a Montgomery County, Maryland, bureau reporter at WDVM/DC News Now.

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