Mid-Atlantic Region Highlights Black Maternal Health Week

April 21, 2019

Most people think women’s maternal health is only an issue in underdeveloped nations. However, health disparities in the United States show that the maternal health of African-American women is a grave concern. The numbers led the Black Mothers Matter Alliance to institute the first Black Maternal Health Week in 2018.

As part of our Mid-Atlantic Cares initiative, we’re taking a look back at the second annual Black Maternal Health Week, which was April 11-17 2019, to highlight the work done by members in the Mid-Atlantic Region. They’re raising awareness of this issue to improve the maternal health of Black women.

Learn more about Black Mamas Matter Alliance and Black Maternal Health Week: https://blackmamasmatter.org/ #BlackMamasMatter

Alma S. Adams Raises Awareness of Black Maternal Health in the U.S. House of Representatives

Alma S. Adams, who represents North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, serves as co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. Rep. Adams and caucus co-chair, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, were at the forefront, introducing legislation that designates April 11-17, 2019, as the second annual Black Maternal Health Week. Fifty-seven of their congressional colleagues joined them.

The press release on Adams’ website states the following:

“Black women are nearly four times more likely than white women – and more than twice as likely than women of other races – to die from preventable, pregnancy-related complications. Black women also experience higher rates of maternal complications and infant mortality. They are twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death, and these disparities have not improved for more than 30 years.”

Read more from Congresswoman Adams: https://adams.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/adams-57-representatives-introduce-legislation-designating-2nd-annual

Antonia Mead Leads Initiatives that Show How HBCUs Can Help Improve Black Maternal Health

Johnson C. Smith University Offers Doula and Lactation Consultant Trainings

Many institutions of higher education serve not only as ivory towers of intellectual capital but also as catalysts for change and improvement in their surrounding communities. Such has been the case for Historically Black Colleges and Universities for more than 180 years and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., is no exception.

In response to numerous requests from the community, Antonia Mead, Ph.D., chair of JCSU’s Department of Health and Human Performance, is overseeing two initiatives designed to train African-American women in assisting other African-American women during their pregnancies and after childbirth to help decrease childbirth-related deaths among Black women and the Black infant mortality rate. Mead is a member of Rho Psi Omega Chapter in Charlotte.

Research shows that African-American women, regardless of health, education or income, are (at least) three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts. Numbers also show that not enough Black women are working as childbirth professionals.

“We’ve recently seen the crisis in rising maternal health deaths and the need exists for birth assistance for those who are high-risk from someone who looks like them,” said Mead. “We want to help close that gap in both employment and service providers.”

Therefore, JCSU offered a two-day training to become a certified birth doula professional. The training, held in February 2019, equipped participants with knowledge and skills to provide physical support, emotional support, partner support, and advocacy to the mother and family during and immediately following the birthing process. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine favor continuous labor support; doulas fill that role. And research shows that women who use birth doulas are less likely to have adverse health effects. A DONA-approved trainer facilitated the course.

In addition to providing doula training this past winter, Mead and her JCSU colleagues worked with healthcare organizations and academic initiatives at major universities to increase the number of African-American women who breastfeed their babies.

“We are aware of the crisis in breastfeeding and the lack of available information and guidance among African American community members and infant and childcare professionals. There is an urgent need for more birth workers and lactation experts that can assist the families who need it the most,” said Mead.

In response, Johnson C. Smith University is the first HBCU to offer the Lactation Consultant Training Program. The goal of the program is to increase the number of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) of color. An IBCLC is a healthcare professional who specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. In North Carolina, it is estimated that less than five percent of the IBCLCs are Black.

North Carolina has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with Black infants dying at a rate more than twice that of non-Hispanic white infants. While it is proven that breastfeeding is protective against infant mortality, the Black population has the lowest rates of breastfeeding duration. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 62% of Black infants born in the US in 2010 initiated breastfeeding, compared to 79% of White infants. After six months, only 36% continued to breastfeed, compared to 52% of White infants.

Said Mead: “We want to help close that gap in the community and at the same time, create more employment opportunities.”

Listen to Mead discuss the importance of doula training on WFAE Charlotte’s National Public Radio affiliate and on WBTV News, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte:


Johnson C. Smith Responds to Black Maternal Health Crisis: https://www.wfae.org/post/johnson-c-smith-responds-black-maternity-health-crisis#stream/0


Training More Black Women to Become Doulas: http://www.wbtv.com/2019/04/15/training-more-black-women-become-doulas-could-that-help-save-more-black-mothers/

Octavia Cannon, OB/GYN, Speaks Frankly About Black Maternal Health Disparities

The WBTV News series on Black Maternal Health also highlights Dr. Octavia Cannon. Cannon, a board-certified physician, received her bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith University. She is co-owner of Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology, LLC, the sole private practice in Charlotte staffed entirely with women physicians, and its three owners are African American. Cannon is a member of Alpha Lambda Omega Chapter in Charlotte. Another co-owner in the practice is Dr. Sophia Paige, a general member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Listen as Cannon speaks frankly about disparities in black maternal health:


Areas of Concern in the Black Maternal Health Crisis: http://www.wbtv.com/2019/04/12/areas-concern-black-maternal-health-crisis/


Racial Bias and Black Maternal Health: http://www.wbtv.com/2019/04/17/racial-bias-black-maternal-health-sometimes-people-will-judge-you-soon-you-walk-door/

Following are resources on doulas and lactation:

National Black Doulas Association

Learn more about doulas or find a doula near you.


National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color

Learn more about breastfeeding and supporting mothers who breastfeed.