It’s been widely reported that women from BAME communities are more likely to experience birth trauma, or die during pregnancy. So, why is that the case, and what can be done to change this worrying trend?
The likelihood of experiencing birth trauma has, for the most part, significantly decreased over the years. This is thanks, in part, to the various advancements we’ve made in maternal healthcare. But, for women from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, the risk of injuries and fatalities remains significantly higher than white women.
So, where exactly does this inequality stem from? Are there uncontrollable factors at play, or are there deeper societal issues which are contributing to the imbalance?
In this post, we’ll be lifting a lid on the issue of birth trauma and pregnancy-related injuries in the BAME community. We’ll do this by discussing various associated factors, such as doctor caused birth injury, as well as looking ahead at what can be done to help turn the tide.
What Does the BAME Birth Trauma Situation Look Like?
There have been a number of studies over the past few years which have helped to contextualise the issue of birth trauma and injuries among women from BAME communities.
In 2020, a report from MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries) found that black women in the UK are four times more likely to die as a result of complications during pregnancy than white women. That same report also points towards the fact that mixed ethnicity women are three times more likely to die or suffer an injury, while Asian women are twice as likely.
This recent study follows on from reports which have come to very familiar conclusions. In 2019, it was found that the chance of maternal death was about 1 in 2,500 for black women – five times higher than white women between 2014 and 2016 – and around 1 in 6,500 for Asian women.
The issue isn’t simply isolated to the UK either. In fact, it’s simply a microcosm of an undeniable global issue.
There have also been a number of reports coming from the US which point towards the same issue. There have even been instances of high-profile black celebrities, such as Serena Williams and Beyonce, who have claimed that they were not properly treated while giving birth, leading to avoidable complications.
Why do BAME Women Suffer More During Pregnancy and Childbirth?
The question many people are asking is a simple one – why such is there as a disparity. Well, as you might expect, there isn’t a single, definitive answer to fall back on.
Rather than there being one contributing factor, there are a number of potential reasons and explanations which may go some way to explaining why BAME communities are more susceptible to birth trauma and injuries.
Previous research has pointed towards the fact that BAME women are more likely to suffer from pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, epilepsy and strokes. All of these add an extra level of risk for pregnant mothers.
However, these health conditions are, obviously, not exclusive to BAME women. This suggests that the issue may lie in the disparity and inequality of the care delivered before, during, and after pregnancy across all ethnic groups.
This is highlighted in the MBRRACE-UK report. Women in the most deprived areas of the UK were found to be three times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than those from affluent areas. Women in these areas are often more likely to face physical and mental ill-health, domestic abuse, and substance misuse.
This also coincides with the fact that BAME women are more likely to make up a significant proportion of the population living in these areas.
It’s also the case that some BAME women may find it difficult to communicate with healthcare professionals about their needs due to language barriers. On the flip side, they may also feel as though they’re not being properly listened to due to ingrained societal ideas.
Is Racial Bias in the Birthing Room an Issue That Needs Addressing?
What happens inside the birthing room also needs to be carefully considered when tackling the issue of birth injuries in BAME women.
There have been suggestions that there is a racial bias in the birthing room, which is preventing BAME women from being able to access the level of support they need.
Dr Ria Clarke, when speaking to the Pregnant Then Screwed conference in January 2020, spoke about this issue, saying: “We need to talk about the fact black women may not feel that they will be taken seriously, which might make them less likely to disclose how they are feeling.
“This is urgent because women are dying and if it’s not racial bias we need to know why [it is happening].”
What Steps Can be Taken to Ensure the Safety of BAME Women During Childbirth?
Following on from the MBRRACE-UK report, a number of initiatives have been launched to ensure the safety of BAME women, helping to reduce the risk of birth trauma.
Campaign group, Fivexmore, is an organisation which has been created to help change black women’s maternal health outcomes in the UK. They’ve launched six steps for healthcare professionals to adopt that will help to drive changing attitudes to tackle the current disparities. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have also joined up with Fivexmore to campaign for improved maternity care for BAME mothers.
The charity Birthright has also announced that it is launching an inquiry through a panel of midwives, BAME families and human rights lawyers to investigate the current inequalities and find actionable solutions.
Keeping the Conversation About Birth Trauma in BAME Communities Going
In this post, we’ve taken a look at the current inequalities that exist regarding birth trauma and injuries among women from BAME communities. While the issue is still, unfortunately, prevalent, there are hopefully signs which point towards the pattern changing in the near future.
However, this can be helped further through open and honest communication. If you have anything to add on the topic at hand, or if you have a related question, please leave a comment below so we can keep the discussion going.
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