The health of Black mothers is finally receiving overdue recognition. In 2020, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood introduced the Momnibus bill that includes The Moms MATTER Act, which proposes grant funding for prenatal group care programs to help reduce poor birth outcomes related to race.
Prenatal group care brings together women with similar term dates to attend regular meetings throughout their pregnancy. During meetings, members engage in interactive discussions with medical professionals about beneficial pregnancy practices and self-care techniques. Prenatal group care encourages positive postpartum behaviors, such as increased breastfeeding and family planning. Group care has been shown to decrease the risk for preterm births and low birth weights.
Black maternal mortality is not new. For the past 50 years, maternal mortality rates for Black mothers have remained 2.3 to 5.3 times higher than the rates for white mothers. In 2018, Black women had 2.4 times the risk of maternal mortality compared to white women. Systemic racism proves to be a formidable force, carrying historical issues into present concerns.
The number of preterm births in the US has risen since 2011, with a higher incidence in African American women. Preterm births are associated with increased rates of neonatal and infant mortality. Additionally, hospital costs related to care for preterm infants are exceedingly high. Though preterm births can lead to loss of life, they can also reduce the quality of it. People who give birth prematurely are more likely to experience five or more life stressors within that same year compared to those who give birth at full term.
“I learned that I not only need to care about my baby, but me too, emotionally and physically … and to have a strong support group around me.”
Noting the positive effects associated with prenatal group care, a team from the University of Minnesota evaluated its potential in moderating racial differences in birth outcomes. In Minneapolis, Black women have a preterm birth rate of 12.7%, compared to 8.3% in white mothers. Pregnant Black women in North Minneapolis participated in a prenatal group study. Thirty-two participants were divided into six prenatal groups and were invited to ten meetings and one postpartum visit. Most women were single and from low-income households.
As the study progressed, participants demonstrated increased pregnancy knowledge and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Compared to those in traditional pregnancy care, mothers in the prenatal group were less likely to smoke cigarettes at time of delivery. Group care mothers also had a greater likelihood of attending postpartum visits than mothers undergoing traditional pregnancy care. The researchers speculated that increased pregnancy knowledge led to mothers being more apt to schedule appointments with their physician to discuss health concerns. Preterm births were also low among mothers in prenatal group care.
Notably, those in prenatal group care didn’t just learn about pregnancy from a nurse or a doctor. They learned from each other. One mother stated, “Having all them ladies here to help me and the doctors [medical, behavioral health, nurses], and all of us moms, made me feel important. I learned something from all of them”. Another mother summarized her experience: “I learned that I not only need to care about my baby, but me too, emotionally and physically … and to have a strong support group around me.”
Racial disparities in birth outcomes have been held stagnant by history. Bringing together women during pregnancy may help reduce continuing Black maternal inequities. Prenatal group care shows us there is strength in numbers.