Pregnancy Complications Black Women Should Know About
Having a baby should be an exciting time for new parents to celebrate. It’s hard to compare the emotion of bringing home a new bundle of joy and expanding a family. However, for Black women, many other emotions can be felt as well. When these women approach motherhood, concern and worry might weigh heavy when considering the risk and complications surrounding pregnancy.
If you’re Black and pregnant, hoping to one day become pregnant, or have recently had a baby, being aware of the conditions that disproportionately affect you is critical to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Feeling in tune with your body, mind and overall wellbeing can empower you to make the decisions necessary to bring a healthy new life into the world, as well as keep your health in top priority.
Here are 10 common pregnancy complications that disproportionately affect Black moms:
1. Gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy. This affects how your cells use sugar, which can cause high blood sugar, directly affecting your pregnancy and your baby’s health. Gestational diabetes is one of the most common pregnancy complications, affecting from 6%-9% of expectant moms. With careful monitoring and proper care, gestational diabetes can be managed without compromising the health of your pregnancy.
Risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of gestational diabetes can include being overweight, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, having pre-diabetes or previous pregnancies with gestational diabetes.
Preeclampsia is when a new and sudden onset of high blood pressure occurs along with a new onset of protein in the urine. Severe swelling of the hands and face is often seen during this condition. . It typically develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications for both mom and baby.
Higher rates of hypertension, sickle cell disease, obesity and diabetes have been found in black women in comparison to women of other ethnicities. . The exact cause of Pre-Eclampsia is unknown. Vitamin D deficiency is a current theory being investigated as a possible contributing factor of preeclampsia. The Black community overall has high rates of vitamin D deficiency, which could potentially contribute to the increased prevalence of this condition among black women.
3. Preterm labor
Preterm labor happens when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Most research suggests that preterm labor affects about 1 in every 10 infants in the United States, but the CDC reports those numbers have been consistently rising in recent years, especially in that of Black women.
There are no specific causes for preterm birth, but there are several factors that can play a significant role in triggering preterm labor including emotional stress, physical stress, smoking, drug and alcohol use, getting pregnant when younger than 17 or older than 35, carrying twins or other multiples, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
In rare cases when preeclampsia is not properly managed, an expectant mother might be diagnosed with eclampsia, which is a continuum of preeclampsia with the new onset of seizure activity in addition to the high blood pressure and protein in the urine seen with preeclampsia.
This, unfortunately, places some Black women at an increased risk due to not having access to medical insurance and quality medical care. The presence of racial bias and discrimination can also play a significant role in Black women not receiving proper medical treatment. Being committed to everyone’s well-being, regardless of race or ethnicity, at Ochsner, we have many programs in place to improve healthcare equity and reduce disparities across segments of our population.
If you have preeclampsia, your provider should be monitoring you and your blood pressure very closely to ensure that your condition doesn’t become more severe.
Two types of hypertension, or high blood pressure, can occur in pregnancy: gestational hypertension (the kind that presents during the second half of pregnancy) and chronic hypertension (when a pregnant woman has pre-existing hypertension).
Gestational hypertension is typically not as severe of a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy however it can be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and could even potentially progress to preeclampsia. Due to the risks of this condition, your doctor may still monitor you closely throughout the pregnancy. Pregnancies with gestational hypertension typically have good outcomes, and this condition usually subsides after delivery. Chronic hypertension, on the other hand, puts you and baby at higher risk for preterm delivery and low birth weight, as well as preeclampsia. The risk factors for chronic hypertension include being overweight or obese, having diabetes, having a family history of high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, high cholesterol, smoking and stress.
7. Heart disease
"Heart disease" refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias and congenital heart defects. It's the leading cause of maternal death in the United States.
Heart disease is more prevalent among Black women in general than it is among white women because Black women are at a higher risk of hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Pregnancy requires your circulatory system (the way your blood moves throughout your body) to work harder, which can cause added stress on your body, so it’s best to talk to a doctor before trying to conceive if you know you have heart disease. Many women have heart disease and don't even realize it. All pregnant and postpartum women should watch out for heart-related warning signs such as sudden or extreme swelling, rapid weight gain, extreme fatigue, fainting, chest pain and shortness of breath. If you experience any of the above symptoms, head to the emergency room right away.
8. Peripartum cardiomyopathy
Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a rare but serious heart condition that can develop later in pregnancy or postpartum and occurs when the chambers of the heart become enlarged and the muscles of the heart begin to weaken. This prevents the heart from effectively pumping oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. It’s important to note that this condition most commonly occurs within the first three months of giving birth, not just during pregnancy.
Fibroids are noncancerous growths of muscle cells and tissue that grow on the wall of your uterus. Most women who have fibroids go on to have completely normal pregnancies (and many women don't even realize they have them until they undergo their first ultrasound).
However, there are some pregnancy risks associated with having uterine fibroids, including placental abruption (when the placenta breaks from the uterine wall before delivery), preterm labor and C-section. Black women are up to three times more likely to have fibroids than white women, and the tumors are more likely to grow larger and cause severe pain.
The vast majority of pregnant women who have fibroids experience no complications. That said, if you experience vaginal bleeding, belly pain or severe back pain, call your doctor right away — those are signs of placental abruption, which is serious.
10. Postpartum hemorrhage
Postpartum hemorrhage is when a laboring mother experiences excessive bleeding after giving birth. This condition usually happens immediately after the baby is delivered, but it can occur later too. Black women are more likely to experience severe complications than women of any other race. Several conditions contribute to a higher risk for postpartum hemorrhage including preeclampsia, obesity, blood and liver conditions, having a C-section, medications to induce labor or stop preterm contractions, vaginal or cervical tearing as well as fast labor or being in labor for a long time.
There's also a small increased risk of postpartum hemorrhage if you have fibroids, which might explain why Black women are more likely to experience this complication.
The most important things you can do are keep all your prenatal appointments and go for any tests your doctor recommends. Ask plenty of questions, advocate for yourself and stay as healthy as possible so you can reduce your chances of developing adverse conditions during pregnancy. The goal with all pregnancies is to ensure maternal health and deliver a happy, healthy little one.
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