Doctors Often Fail to Listen to Black Mothers, Complicating Births, Survey Finds

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A first of its kind survey of California mothers about their birth concerns and outcomes offers two findings: Health providers often don’t listen to mothers about their birth preferences and African American women are the least likely to be listened to.

Disregarding input from pregnant women increases the risk of death and complications for the mothers and their babies.

“We know what works with childbirth in this country, we just aren’t doing it,” said Stephanie Teleki, director of maternity investments at the California Health Care Foundation, which funded the survey. “The status quo for too many California women, particularly black mothers, is care that produces poor outcomes, is not in keeping with their preferences, and is often needlessly expensive. That needs to change.”

The National Partnership for Women & Families began its national Listening to Mothers surveys in 2002. The California survey is the first statewide one the organization has conducted, collaborating with researchers from UC San Francisco and the Boston University School of Public Health. The report is based on completed surveys by over 2,500 healthy women who gave birth to a single baby in a California hospital in 2016.

Key findings include:

  • Four in 10 women reported that a health professional tried to induce labor by using medicine or other methods. Three-quarters of women who felt pressured to have labor induced in this way ended up having the procedure.
  • While only 9 percent of women had a midwife as their birth attendant, 17 percent said they would want one, and 37 percent said they would consider one for a future birth.
  • About 9 percent of respondents used a labor doula—a non-medical birth assistant—during childbirth. But 57 percent expressed interest in doula care for a next birth. African American women showed the greatest interest.

While African American women give birth to only about 5.5 percent of the babies born in California each year, their disparities compared to other groups are high. California statistics show: