Pandemic Widened Health Risks of Pregnancy, Childbirth Among Women of Color, Sociologists Say

Bhoomi Thakore

The health risks of childbirth and pregnancy among women of color grew higher in 2020 as the pandemic widened preexisting inequities.

These are among the findings two UCF sociologists presented in a chapter of the recently published “Social Problems in the Age of COVID-19.” Professor Shannon K. Carter, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Bhoomi K. Thakore, Ph.D., blended their expertise on maternal issues to examine the impact topics like overburdened hospitals, risk of virus exposure and telehealth made on pregnant women of color.

Even pre-pandemic, pregnant women in the U.S. were more than twice as likely to die from childbirth complications than women in other industrialized nations, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield. The risks grow higher among women of color, with Black women 3-4 times more likely to die than white women from childbirth complications.

Carter and Thakore name “unnecessary caesarean births, breastfeeding disruptions and postpartum depression” as the culprits, among others. But those are symptoms. The root of the problem is women’s unheard complaints, they posit.

“Black women are far less listened to by their obstetricians. Their pain is minimized and their symptoms are overlooked,” Carter said.

The pandemic widened the gap by overburdening hospitals in predominantly Black and Hispanic communities with virus patients. That forced pregnant women to find help in a healthcare system strained to the breaking point.

Shannon Carter

They write: “Pandemics such as COVID-19 bring to light inherent problems with basing maternity care within an institution created to treat people who are sick.”

The book’s editors emphasized the need to pair problems with solutions. Carter and Thakore offered a more nuanced understanding of how race factors in medicine from doctors, versus expecting just the women to change their behavior.  The historic role of midwives and doulas in the birthing process was minimized by the advent of formalized medicine, but recruiting and training these important figures could make a difference.

Both Carter and Thakore recognized the once-in-a-generation research opportunity the pandemic presented (even if they didn’t anticipate the duration). Their goal is to put this book and their chapter into the hands of policy makers and community leaders who can use it to make significant changes and improvements.

“We hope that our research brings attention to some straightforward solutions,” Thakore said. “Ideally, it will also motivate funders to provide the necessary resources to these communities struggling every day with maternal healthcare access.”




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