April 14, 2022, 2:43 p.m. Michael Devitt — In 2018, the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a national network of Black women-led organizations and multidisciplinary professionals who advocate for maternal health, human rights and reproductive justice, organized the first Black Maternal Health Week to raise awareness of and develop solutions to the health disparities Black women face while pregnant.
Three years later, in April 2021 the Biden administration issued a proclamation recognizing April 11-17 as Black Maternal Health Week. The administration reinforced its support by issuing a similar proclamation earlier this month.
In recognition of Black Maternal Health Week, and as part of a more comprehensive recognition of Minority Health Month, the AAFP wants to make members aware of a number of related resources they can use. These tools can help family physicians learn about Black maternal health, provide Black women and their children with the best possible care, and continue seeking ways to address the health disparities that negatively affect Black women.
First approved by the Congress of Delegates in 1989, the Academy’s maternal/child care policy says the AAFP “remains committed to its policy of access to quality health care for all Americans and its willingness to collaborate with governmental and private agencies as well as … other appropriate professional organizations to provide appropriate access to maternal/child care for all women wherever they reside.”
More recently, the Academy has published or revised a number of additional policy statements and position papers on related maternal health topics, including birth equity (both as a policy and a position paper), care for medically underserved communities, implicit bias and reproductive and maternity health services. In addition, members can access “Striving for Birth Equity,” an AAFP Virtual Town Hall originally published in April 2021 that has been approved for one AAFP Prescribed credit.
The Academy has also consistently advocated for Congress to address the nation’s maternal health crisis. In March 2020, the Academy sent a letter to two members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus urging passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, and in February 2021, the Group of Six (which includes the Academy) sent a similar letter in support of the most recent version of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, a legislative package spearheaded by the caucus. The Protecting Moms Who Served Act, one of several bills in the Momnibus package, was signed into law on Nov. 30, 2021.
A substantial number of maternal care resources are available on the Academy’s Maternal Health webpage. These include links to the AAFP’s clinical preventive service recommendations on various maternal health topics, a guideline on planning for labor and vaginal birth after cesarean delivery, and toolkits on breastfeeding and screening for postpartum depression. In addition, the Academy has assembled a collection of maternity care clinical recommendations and guidelines so that members can find in one convenient location.
Finally, the AAFP has taken strides internally to improve the health of its staff by implementing a new parental leave policy that allows full- and part-time staff to take up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
In June, the Academy will host a four-day women’s health livestream course that allows attendees to earn up to 22.5 AAFP Prescribed credits. The course is chaired by Elissa Palmer, M.D., a professor and chair of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Department of Family and Community Medicine. Over five sessions, which will include time for questions, the course will address topics such as birth equity, physician well-being, well care and chronic conditions.
Individuals who complete the activity will be able to
Krys Foster, M.D., M.P.H., a clinical assistant professor and director of diversity, inclusion and social justice for the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, is one of several members scheduled to speak at the June livestream course. On June 21, she and Maya Bass, M.D., M.A., an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, N.J., will give a one-hour presentation titled “What’s Killing Women of Color? Racial Inequities in Women’s Health.” Foster explained her interest in the topic, as well as how family physicians can use the information in the presentation to provide better care, in an email to AAFP News.
“As a Black woman family physician with early interests in public health and core residency faculty serving in an urban underserved community, I am acutely aware and attuned to health inequities affecting my patients daily,” Foster said. “I hope to use my voice and platform to collaborate with my colleagues and work critically toward fairer opportunities for all patients to achieve good health. I have been fortunate to work with many of my colleagues doing this work throughout the nation and hope to learn more ways that I can address health equity in community and institutional settings.”
The session will feature discussions and case presentations of health disparities for women of color, which will provide strategies and recommendations for changes in practice to advance health equity.
“The U.S. is becoming more and more diverse, and though some health indicators such as life expectancy have improved for many Americans, some minority groups experience a disproportionate share of morbidity and mortality,” said Foster. “It is important for family physicians on the front line to recognize and acknowledge these disparities, as well as learn techniques to advocate and work toward equity in outcomes for our patients of color. Additionally, we must realize that physicians are not immune from contributing to health disparities, so we must learn ways that we may minimize our personal contributions to these inequities.”
For those who cannot attend the livestream course, the Academy offers a self-study version that members can complete on their own schedule.
In July, the Academy will host a four-day family-centered pregnancy care live course in Denver. Chaired by Lee Dresang, M.D., a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, as well as the medical advisor for the Academy’s Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics program, the program will address more than two dozen topics, including antenatal testing for high-risk pregnancies, diagnosis and management of twin pregnancy, and telehealth in pregnancy care.
The course is divided into four daily sessions, with each group of sessions centered around a particular topic. The course also features clinical procedure workshops after the morning sessions.
After completing the course, attendees should be able to
The live course is acceptable for up to 30.5 Live AAFP Prescribed credits, and has been designated for a maximum of 30.5 AMA PRA Category 1 credits. Following the activity, participants will have the opportunity to earn an additional two Prescribed credits for participation in each of two Translation to Practice exercises.
Sharla Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H., principal investigator of the Kansas Birth Equity Network and an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, will also address Black maternal health in a pair of discussions, “Creating Birth Equity to Reduce Black Maternal Morbidity and Mortality” and “Equity in Pregnancy Reflection,” at the family-centered pregnancy care course on July 20. Smith told AAFP News about her interest in the topic, as well as how family physicians can play an integral role in promoting birth equity.
“I became interested in maternal health at a young age,” said Smith. “I always knew that I wanted to be a part of the solution in making sure Black women and their babies were healthy and highlighting the strengths of the Black community.
“Family physicians are the trusted and most often-seen physicians by maternal-age women. Birth equity is important to family physicians because they want their patients to be healthy and decision-makers in their care.”
Smith added that in the future, she hopes to see “true” birth equity in which Black women are not blamed for having poor health outcomes, with a shift in accountability at the system level for programs and policies that have resulted in such outcomes.
“Overall, I hope to see that every Black birthing person, father and baby gets to celebrate the baby’s first birthday as a healthy and safe family,” Smith said. “I also hope that we begin to intentionally listen, see, hear and care for Black birthing persons.”
Those who cannot attend the family-centered pregnancy care live course can complete a self-study package on their own schedule.
The Black Mamas Matter Alliance recently published the 2022 version of its Black Maternal Health Week social media toolkit. The toolkit cites statistics on Black maternal, quality of care, COVID-19 and related topics, and features talking points, key hashtags, sample language for social posts on Facebook and Twitter, and links to dozens of shareable images.
The Alliance will also host the annual Black Maternal Health Conference and Training Institute Sept. 17-18 in Washington, D.C., with the theme “Building for Liberation: Centering Black Mamas, Black Families and Black Systems of Care” to reflect the Alliance’s work on services and programs related to sexual, maternal and reproductive health care.