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A health care provider holds a stethoscope to a pregnant woman's abdomen

Office Visit: Advocate for Black Maternal Health

By Todd Hoffman, M.D.

A new addition to the family should be one of the happiest days for a parent, not grounds for a life-threatening event.

Sadly, the number of women who have died giving birth in the United States has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics for pregnant Black women paint an even more concerning picture. Black women account for just 10% of Oklahoma’s births but account for 22% of the state’s maternal deaths.

According to information from the state, Black babies had a preterm birth rate one and a half times higher than all other babies from 2020-22. Black women are also more likely to experience life-threatening conditions, including preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage and blood clots, as well as increased likelihood of other pregnancy-related complications like preterm birth and low birth weight. 

Black Maternal Health Week is April 11-17 and provides an opportunity to further awareness and the discussion about Black maternal health. Addressing the racial disparities and inequities in maternal health involves multiple factors, including variation in quality health care, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias.

However, there are things you can do to help reduce pregnancy-related complications and death. For example:

Dr. Todd Hoffman

Todd Hoffman, M.D.

  • When possible, prescreen and get to know potential prenatal and postpartum health care providers to help ensure a sense of comfort and begin an open line of communication between you and the provider.
  • Do not be afraid to speak up. Talk to your health care provider if anything does not feel right or if you do not feel like your needs or concerns are being addressed. Being an advocate for your own health is important.
  • Listen to your body and seek immediate care if you experience any of the urgent maternal warning signs, including severe headache, extreme swelling of hands or face, trouble breathing, heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge or overwhelming tiredness. These symptoms could indicate a potentially life-threatening complication.
  • Share recent pregnancy history with your health care provider during each medical care visit for up to one year after delivery.
  • Connect with physical and mental health care and social support systems before, during and after pregnancy.

Improving Black maternal health is a vital step in ensuring better overall health for Oklahomans, both now and for future generations.

Todd Hoffman, M.D., C.P.E., is chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma

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