About one in five mothers with children younger than 18 reported mistreatment during pregnancy and delivery care, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The “Vital Signs” paper published in August found that Black and uninsured women were most likely to report mishandling.
“As a doctor, mother, and Black woman, it is disheartening to hear how common mistreatment is and to see differences in mistreatment and discrimination during maternity care based on things like race and insurance coverage,” Wanda Barfield, CDC Division of Reproductive Health Director, said in a statement.
Moms Feel Unseen and Unheard
The CDC analyzed survey responses from 2,400 women about maternal care administered from April 24-30, 2023.
Approximately 30% of women reported discrimination during their visits, including 40% of Black women, 39% of multicultural women, and 37% of Hispanic women.
The most common forms of mistreatment reported were receiving no response to requests for help, being shouted at or scolded, not having their physical privacy protected, and being threatened with withholding treatment or made to accept unwanted treatment.
Nearly half of women reported holding back questions and concerns from their provider due to fears of being perceived as difficult, lacking confidence about the subject being addressed, and other reasons.
“Effective communication among healthcare providers and patients can build trust and contribute to high-quality care,” the CDC wrote. “It is important for patients to feel comfortable sharing health concerns with their providers, which could lead to more accurate and timely treatment for pregnancy-related complications.”
Debra Houry, chief medical officer at the CDC, says the healthcare community needs to do all it can to provide equitable and respectful maternal care.
“Health systems, hospitals, and providers can take steps to improve care and lower the risk of pregnancy-related complications and death for all women,” she said. “These data show that we must do better to support moms.”
Changing the Culture of Care
More than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, and more than half occur up to one year after delivery.
The CDC says providing proper care is one way to reduce the number of women dying during or after pregnancy.
“We know that racism and discrimination can lead to delays in treatment and sometimes tragic and preventable deaths,” Barfield said. “Healthcare provider trainings on unconscious bias and culturally appropriate care may be a first step in understanding how to provide respectful maternity care to all women.”
On a system level, the CDC recommends shifting the culture by hiring and maintaining a diverse workforce and providing anti-bias training.
It also encourages healthcare professionals to respect, understand, and value patients.
“Every mother deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Maternal care is a core component of this nation’s health care, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to improving maternal health outcomes,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
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