Pregnancy & Black Women: Managing High Blood Pressure, Fibroids & Other Common Health Conditions

Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, and embarking on motherhood marks an important milestone. Yet, alarming racial disparities in maternal mortality rates can also bring a sense of fear to Black women. A study conducted by the CDC indicated that Black mothers die from pregnancy-related causes at a rate 3.2 times that of white women. This statistic becomes even more daunting for Black women over thirty-five — as the chances of birth defects, miscarriages, and emergency c-sections are significantly increased. Black women should have the same security of having a safe and healthy pregnancy as any other race. Being informed and prepared helps. While there is an immense amount of work to be done to fix our broken healthcare system, small steps can be taken on an individual basis to promote healthier pregnancies for Black women. Drawing from key sections in The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins) — a guide for professional Black women on their journey to motherhood by Kimberly Seals-Allers — this article will discuss common hurdles Black women encounter while pregnant and provide tips on how to overcome these obstacles. As we fight to combat racial disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity, it is important to also discuss common special circumstances and some pregnancy-related complications that are prevalent in Black communities.

Pregnancy After 30: For women who are considering bearing children in their late 30s or early 40s, but are worried about the impacts of late conception of their child, there are many tests available to predict abnormalities in a developing fetus. Amniocentesis, Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS), triple screen or quad screen blood tests are all viable options for predicting abnormalities in offspring.

3 Common Conditions for Black Women: High Blood Pressure, Fibroids, and Diabetes

1. High Blood Pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is linked to genetics, diet, and obesity. A unique version of hypertension during pregnancy is known as pre-eclampsia – which has symptoms of blurred vision, swelling, weight gain, and can cause placenta eruption and growth impairments in the fetus. The Healthcare Cost Utilization Project (HCUP) estimates the condition to be 60% more common in Black Directly linking pre-eclampsia to the high maternal mortality rates we see in the Black community.

A Doctor’s Tip –
“You have to keep your blood pressure under control during your pregnancy”
Gail N. Jackson, M.D.

Keeping blood pressure under control is key in promoting a healthier pregnancy. Since hypertension is partially caused by diet, it is recommended to consult with a nutritionist while pregnant. Additionally, several effective blood pressure medications are safe for pregnant women’s use. Consult with your doctor about these options.

2. Fibroids: Defined as noncancerous growths in the uterus, fibroids are more likely to be present, larger, and more numerous in Black women. According to the USA Fibroids Center, Black women are three times more likely to develop uterine fibroids than other racial groups. Fibroids can lead to severe pain, anemia, miscarriages, and if blocking the cervix, can inhibit vaginal delivery and cause significant bleeding postpartum.

A Doctor’s Tip –
“Fibroids are linked to hormones, it seems logical that avoiding meats and chicken with hormones in it may also be a help”
   – Andrea M. Jackson, M.D.

Since fibroids are directly linked to hormones, Dr. Jackson suggests avoiding foods that contribute to hormone imbalance in the body. Doctors also suggest taking iron supplements and mentally preparing for the possibility of a blood transfusion postpartum, in the case fibroids trigger excessive bleeding after birth.

3. Diabetes: An accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream caused by the body’s lack of insulin production or inability to put insulin to use. Diabetes is two times as common among Black women in the U.S. than white women.

A Doctor’s Tip –
“You need absolutely excellent blood sugar control.”
   – Andrea M. Jackson, M.D.

Type two diabetes is most common among Black women. Luckily, this variation can be monitored with diet and exercise. Doctors recommend that Black women with diabetes seek pregnancy counseling before conception and attempt to regulate the disease as much as possible before bearing children. Because a baby’s glucose level directly coincides with their mother’s, women with poorly regulated diabetes pose greater risks to their child, including birth defects of the brain, kidney, spine, and heart. Neural tube defects are also a possibility, for this, an Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) blood test may be recommended for preliminary detection.

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