Focus on YOU! Reducing Risk Factors Contributing to Pregnancy Complications & Black Maternal Death

Many maternal deaths can be prevented--here are practical steps to prepare for motherhood and to reduce the risk of complications.

Maternal death and pregnancy-related health complications disproportionately affect the Black community. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, "more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable." To help us prepare for pregnancy, birth, and motherhood Tia Jackson-Bey MD, MPH, a board certified reproductive endocrinologist, infertility specialist, and obstetrician gynecologist provides us with practical steps to help prepare Black women for safe and healthy pregnancies and deliveries.

  • Vision Board It!

    Taking the time to envision the experience you desire is important. Be creative, lofty, specific, or as flexible as you want. So much about your pregnancy experience can feel new and uncharted if you are experiencing pregnancy for the first time, in a new location, or with a new provider. Think about what is most important to you regarding comfort, support, the process, and finally what a successful delivery looks like. Create a vision of what you want, envision that coming to pass, and then document what your see. Whether you journal it, clip magazine pictures, or use AI graphics to depict your ideal journey, take the time to critically think about what you want. That is the first step in reclaiming the pregnancy and birthing experience. Start your visualization process now!

  • Get Curious!

    Now is your time to explore and familiarize yourself with what is to come. Ask questions! Talk to friends and family about your goals and then seek guidance from their experiences. Get advice from parents you know or others around you. Read books on parenting, pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care. Explore blogs and chat groups specific to you, your identity, and your location or circumstance such as queer family building or parenting without a partner. Seek encouragement and community support on your journey. Talk to spiritual or religious leaders about your goals for spiritual guidance in parenting. This pre-nesting phase is your time to shift your focus to things you described in your vision, your visualization of parenthood, and the journey to get there. 

    For more information on Angela Lewis’ initiatives, visit her siteher Instagram, or the Birth Village Instagram.

  • Are you Working Day and Night?

    Balancing the demands of work and the next phase of your life may deserve the same level of exploration. Seek out organizations and job opportunities that align with your plan for parenthood. This can include re-prioritizing responsibilities or wrapping up projects that minimize the amount of time you have to care for yourself or your growing family. Alternatively, it could mean taking on projects or roles that allow for higher financial compensation, which can give you and your family more flexibility during pregnancy and parenthood. Look into flexible work options that allow you to attend prenatal visits and take time to care for yourself during pregnancy and after parental leave ends. Explore your insurance coverage--are you on the best plan to cover prenatal care or fertility treatments if needed? Which healthcare providers and specialists are in your insurance network? Do your current providers align with the care you seek?

  • Health Checks

    An important step will always be to make sure your overall health is up to date. Have you made an appointment for an annual exam with your primary care provider or have you found a new gynecologist? If you have any medical conditions--think asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease or an autoimmune disease--now is the time to visit your doctor and make sure everything is where it should be prior to pregnancy. This could include additional testing of your heart, with an EKG or echocardiogram, adjusting medications for diabetes or high blood pressure to something more compatible with pregnancy, or addressing loud snoring with a sleep study. Underlying health problems can become complicating factors in pregnancy. It's best to get checked out and get on the best regimen possible prior to pregnancy.

  • F*ck Cancer!

    Cancer screenings are available for many of the most common cancers affecting women. Reproductive age women are at risk of several cancers, especially as women are delaying having children until later in life. Pap smears screen for cervical cancer starting at age 21. Mammograms screen for breast cancer starting at age 40. Colonoscopies screen for colon cancer starting at age 45. Any of these tests can be performed sooner than the recommended starting age, based on personal risk factors and family history. With deaths from cervical cancer increasing and rates of colon cancer in people younger than 50 on the rise, getting these screenings done can save your life, and allow you to be around longer for your children. Breast cancer death rates are higher for Black women than white women. Early detection matters.

  • Gather Your Village

    Months to years prior to pregnancy is a great time to start identifying people in your life to be available for support during and after pregnancy. Aside from your immediate family and significant other, this could include discussions with friends, loved ones, even trusted neighbors or co-workers about the role you want them to play in your pregnancy. Identifying someone to help accompany you to prenatal visits, know how to reach your emergency contacts in case of medical emergency or know additional details like where you live, or work, or keep extra keys, clothes or medication stored. Building a village can also include reaching out to moms you know to seek advice on everything from hired help to infant care. For those interested in doula care, including labor and postpartum support, this time can also involve looking into local doula referrals, pricing, and whether that care is covered by your current insurance. 

    The Black Mamas Matter Alliance serves as a national entity working to advance Black maternal health, rights, and justice, and uplifts the work of locally based, Black-led and Black women-led maternal health initiatives and organizations.

  • Shots, Shots, Shots!

    One undervalued preparation for pregnancy is using this time to get updated on necessary vaccinations. While many vaccinations, such as flu and COVID-19 are safe to take during pregnancy, other vaccines, such as those for measles, chickenpox, and human papilloma virus (HPV) are not. If you have never received or completed the vaccine series, now is the time to get up to date. These can be obtained at your primary care, urgent care, and gynecologist’s offices. 

  • Doctor Shop

    Before pregnancy is a great time to find the right medical team for you. This can start with reviewing options in your community, recommendations from friends and family, or seeking providers in your insurance network. By scheduling an appointment now, you gain the opportunity to see if this is the right fit for you for prenatal care. What is the vibe in the office? How accessible is your provider and staff when you have questions? Is the location ideal between where you work and live? Do they deliver at only specific hospitals and are you comfortable to travel there for further evaluation or delivery? Can you tour the hospital? How is prenatal care divided amongst providers? Who will be present for your delivery? Is your insurance accepted and what are your out of pocket expenses? Getting acquainted with the practice can help with expectations for care later when pregnant and postpartum. 

  • Trust Your Body

    Spend time getting to know your body--how it moves, feels, experiences sensations such as pleasure or pain, what it likes and does not, and how to trust your intuition. Furthering your mind body connection may be important in picking up clues when something does not feel right during pregnancy or postpartum. Take time to become the master of you and take that into this next life changing phase.

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