Breaking Down Racial Biases in Postpartum Healthcare

When we enter motherhood, we often think of the postpartum period as a time of joy and bonding. While this may be true for many families, challenges still accompany this period. Systemic racial biases ingrained within the healthcare system can exacerbate these challenges for many women of color. Despite the clear need for support, alarming statistics show that women of color are less likely to feel comfortable seeking treatment. This is leading to devastating consequences.

woman of colour who appears upset

Cultural Impacts on Mental Health

Mental health disparities among different communities and cultures are glaringly evident in the postpartum period. When we discuss mental health challenges faced by various cultures and communities, it’s crucial to understand how mental health is perceived. Different cultures may have stigmas or specific considerations regarding mental health. For example, Asian American women are reported to be 50% less likely to seek out care. Yet, they are nine times more likely to experience suicidal ideations during this vulnerable time. This staggering disparity emphasizes the urgent need to address the cultural barriers preventing these women from accessing the care they deserve. It also underscores the necessary changes within the medical system to enable women to feel more comfortable seeking care.

Similarly, within the Black community, obstacles to seeking postpartum care stem from racism, socioeconomic disparities, and historical trauma. Shocking data reveals that the leading cause of death for Black pregnant and postpartum individuals is not complications from childbirth.  Instead, systemic neglect and racial biases within the healthcare system are to blame.

How Representation Affects Care

The lack of representation among healthcare providers further exacerbates the issue. Many women of colour find themselves in clinical settings where their doctors and caregivers do not share their racial or cultural background. This leads to a sense of disconnect and mistrust. Historical injustices, such as the forced separation of families during slavery, have left a lasting imprint on communities of colour, fostering deep-seated apprehension towards authority figures, including healthcare providers, especially regarding voicing concerns related to mental health. The concerns and traumas faced by women of colour often go unrecognized and misunderstood within the medical industry. Despite awareness of the alarming statistics, there is a tendency to continue without making efforts to reform the system. These changes must foster trust and create a safe, comfortable environment for women of colour.

Healthcare providers must commit to fostering a culture of inclusivity and understanding within their practices, starting with diversifying their workforce. It is crucial to have healthcare professionals who reflect the racial and cultural diversity of their patients to build trust and rapport. Additionally, healthcare providers must prioritize cultural competence training and actively seek to understand the unique needs and perspectives of their patients. This training needs to occur in person and focus on the uncomfortable realities of our current medical system.

How Time Constraints Contribute to Lack of Trust

Apart from the lack of diversity in the medical system, there are also far too many time constraints. These time constraints limit the opportunities for meaningful patient-provider interactions. However, investing the time to truly get to know patients and build trust is essential in providing effective and compassionate care. This is particularly important during the vulnerable postpartum period. Care is about more than just treatment. It needs to be holistic and also focus on understanding someone’s cultures and beliefs.

How Racial Biases Impact Labour

Moreover, the pervasive nature of racial biases often leads to the dismissal or overlooking of Black women’s concerns during labour and postpartum care. This failure to listen and empathize exacerbates the already alarming rates of postpartum morbidity among Black women. This just further highlights the urgent need for systemic change.

Addressing these ingrained biases requires a multifaceted approach that begins with introspection and self-awareness. We must acknowledge that we all hold prejudices and biases, and meaningful progress can only be achieved through confronting and dismantling these beliefs.

Pregnant woman of colour

Call to Change

Addressing racial biases in postpartum healthcare is not just a matter of equity; it is a matter of life and death. By acknowledging and actively challenging these biases, we can create a healthcare system that truly includes and supports all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. It is time to have uncomfortable conversations, confront our biases, and commit to doing the necessary work to ensure that every woman receives the care and support she deserves during this critical phase of motherhood.

Further Learning

The most significant step in addressing these alarming statistics is to listen to the voices of those affected. This post was made possible by the experiences shared by Ciara Lyons MSN RN PHN. If you’re interested in learning more about breaking down the barriers and racial biases in healthcare, you can view Ciara Lyons’ full interview on the topic here.


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