It was standing room only at D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s second annual National Maternal and Infant Health Summit on Tuesday, where health experts, policy makers and members of the local community gathered to discuss a range of issues threatening the health of American families.
Over the occasional coos and cries at the baby-friendly event, panelists spoke on topics ranging from racial disparities in health care, to the importance of healthy food access and the role fathers play in maternal health outcomes.
Bowser opened the conference at the Washington Convention Center by telling the crowd that “we all have a role to play” when it comes to solving the country’s maternal mortality crisis.
“Today and every day we continue to sound the alarm about maternal mortality rates in our nation and how African Americans are disproportionately affected,” she said.
Despite medical and technological advances, the number of maternal deaths in the U.S. has increased in the last few decades.
About 700 American women die each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications, and black women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Plus, data show that the majority of maternal deaths are preventable.
The recent statistics have sent care providers, public health officials and women’s health advocates on a mission to better understand why women are dying and how to reverse the trend.
D.C., which has one of the country’s highest maternal mortality ratios, recently established a review committee to investigate maternal deaths in the District. And after last year’s inaugural summit, Bowser launched Thrive By Five to link parents of young children to the city’s available resources.
Like many in attendance, Janille Thompson brought her young child to the event. The public health professional and mother came to the summit to learn more about the services available to local parents and hear about the latest research in maternal health.
Northern Virginia resident Janell Mayfield attended Tuesday’s summit to connect with other women and hear more about their experiences with pregnancy and motherhood.
“I think it’s very important that women support one another when we’re pregnant … and just be celebrating pregnancy, which I think is something that we don’t really do. We kind of keep it quiet,” said Mayfield, who is expecting her first baby in a month after losing a pregnancy last year.
“I think it should be more of a celebration, and to be around such wonderful, powerful women makes me even more excited to be a mom pretty soon.”
New at the summit this year was a focus on the role men play in the health of women, families and the community. A panel and afternoon breakout session discussed the importance of fatherhood in health outcomes and strategies to improve paternal involvement.
“I think when you think of pregnancy, the first thing you think of is the woman. So, just to hear men talking more is really exciting,” Mayfield said.
Jason Wallace, executive director of the Mayor’s Office on Fathers, Men and Boys, said despite common myths and misconceptions, many dads — and especially black and Hispanic dads — are involved parents.
His office provides dads with the tools they need to succeed in their roles, including information on postpartum depression and mentor programs for young dads.