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Blog: Improving the Odds for Black Maternal Health

As Family Connects Program Manager, Taylor Simeon focuses on health equity and improving the quality of care for Mercer County families with newborns. 

As a woman of childbearing age, maternal health is extremely important to me — but the picture in New Jersey for maternal and infant death is frightening.

New Jersey ranks 47th in the nation for maternal deaths and has one of the widest racial disparities for both maternal and infant mortality, according to Nurture NJ, a statewide campaign led by First Lady Tammy Murphy to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Black infants die at three times the rate of white newborns, while women of all races are more likely to lose their lives during childbirth here than in many other states.

Those statistics show me there is work to be done.

While maternal health is always a top priority for THT, National Black Maternal Health Week provides an annual opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges facing mothers in our community. During April, as National Minority Health Month, our efforts to advance health equity take on renewed urgency as we continue to see Black mothers in New Jersey seven times more likely to die from maternity-related complications than white mothers.

Indeed, Black women are more than twice as likely to not receive any prenatal care, compared to all other racial/ethnic groups. Embedded within these persistent disparities are the ongoing effects of institutional racism—racism that began with the enslavement of Black people was built into our earliest institutions, and has continued to influence policies and practices ever since, according to the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality.

Access to early and consistent prenatal care increases the likelihood of having a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery for both birth parents and babies. Yet in Mercer County rates of early prenatal care are 63% — far below the national average of 77% — fewer than half of Trenton mothers attending a prenatal visit in the first trimester (2016).

Two-thirds of infant deaths occur within 28 days of birth, according to THT’s 2019 Community Health Needs and Assets report. In Mercer County, the infant mortality rate is 7.0 infant deaths per 1,000 live births–exceeding both state and national rates (4.1 and 5.9).

To address this, Trenton Health Team is partnering with Family Connects to plan for free, in-home nurse visits for families of newborns served by Capital Health in Hopewell regardless of income or insurance status, thanks to support from The Burke Foundation.

Trenton Health Team also was selected recently to join the Safer Childbirth Cities initiative founded by Merck for Mothers to help cities become safer, more equitable places to give birth.

As a member of the 2021 cohort of the Safer Childbirth Cities program, THT will partner with Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, Children’s Futures, Capital Health, and Central Jersey Family Health Consortium to improve outcomes for pregnant patients, new parents and infants in our community.

Over the next three years, support from Safer Childbirth Cities, as well as other funders such as the Burke Foundation, will enable expansion of doula programs providing women, especially those challenged by language barriers, racial inequity, low incomes or lack of health insurance, with culturally and linguistically appropriate support services before, during and after pregnancy.

THT and the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium also will develop data analysis to expand knowledge of maternal health risk factors, disparities, and warning signs of mortality and morbidity, and help identify solutions.

We know the current situation is intolerable. THT is proud to be part of these initiatives focusing resources and effort on overcoming a longstanding injustice and helping all families feel safe, supported and confident. Together with our partners, we are determined to save the lives of mothers and babies in our community.