Mythbusting May Help Improve Health Of Women of Color and their Babies

News Release

Mythbusting May Help Improve Health Of Women of Color and their Babies

For Immediate Release:  April 22, 2013
Contact: Tara Goodin
Phone: (202) 591-4041

Lamaze International spotlights disparities in outcomes for women of color and their babies, provides resources for women to push for better

Washington, D.C. – Some of the most persistent and troubling issues in maternity care in the U.S. are the continued gaps in the health and wellbeing of African American women and their babies.  While an April 2013 National Center for Health Statistics data brief reported some good news – infant mortality has declined 16 percent for non-Hispanic black women – issues persist.  Lamaze experts say that continuing this progress will require attention and focus on the very real challenges women of color face and calling out some myths that might be a barrier in women pushing for better care.   

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that one of every five non-Hispanic, black births are pre-term,[1] African American mothers have traditionally experienced an infant mortality rate twice that of non-Hispanic, white mothers,[2],[3] and breastfeeding rates among African American mothers are 16 percent lower than white mothers.[4]  But in particular, research also shows that African American women have consistently higher rates of cesarean.[5],[6]

Maternal health outcomes in the Hispanic community are also troubling.  According to the HHS, infant mortality rates of Puerto Rican Americans are 30 percent higher than non-Hispanic, white mothers,[7]  Mexican American mothers are twice as likely to not receive prenatal care at all or not until the third trimester,[8] and Puerto Rican American babies are twice as likely to die from low birth weight as compared to their non-Hispanic, white counterparts.[9]

“We all know that access to care is the biggest barrier that women of color face in having a safe and healthy birth,” said Tara Owens Shuler, President of Lamaze International. “But there’s also a pervasive sense that women of color are sicker than their peers, and that this factor explains the consistently higher rates of cesarean or early births.  If you look at the research, it doesn’t entirely hold up.” 

Shuler notes that higher cesarean rates in African American women could not be explained by poor health in the mothers, according to one important study published in a 2008 issue of Clinics in Perinatology.[10]  Upon examination, researchers found that the higher rates of surgery were more directly tied to physician practice.  While cesareans can be life-saving surgery, it also poses increased risk of complications for mother and baby. 

“It’s important that we don’t create an expectation among women of color that they are destined to have more difficult or more dangerous births than white women,” said Shuler. “There are some factors that can’t be controlled, but there are many factors that can be controlled and can improve the chances of minority women having a safe and healthy birth.”  

Lamaze International encourages all women, especially women of color, to push for better care by following these tips:

  • Find a care provider who will act as a partner. It’s important to find a health professional who will listen and work together to achieve good quality care.  
  • Know your options.  While most women give birth to their babies in a hospital, a growing number of women are choosing a birth center and midwives for their care.  Choose a place that will be able to accommodate individual needs and preferences.  
  • Ask questions.  Labor and birth can be unpredictable, so don’t be shy about using prenatal visits to learn about your options.  In labor, always ask about the pros and cons of procedures, whether an intervention is truly necessary and what alternatives are available.   
  • Participate in a childbirth education class.  Lamaze education is a great way to learn more about maternity care best practices and ways to safely navigate labor and birth.  A childbirth educator will help identify the right questions to ask when making decisions about care. 

“The disparities in pre-natal and maternal health care among women of color are an issue that hits home for me – not only as a childbirth educator, but also as a woman of color,” said Shuler.  “Every woman can play a role in stacking the deck in their favor by taking a quality childbirth education class and becoming well-informed so they can push for the best care possible.”

Labor and birth will be different for everyone, but childbirth education can arm women with the knowledge and tools necessary to get the care that is best for them and their baby.  To learn more, or to sign up for a Lamaze childbirth class, visit


About Lamaze International

Lamaze International promotes a natural, healthy and safe approach to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting practices.  Knowing that pregnancy and childbirth can be demanding on a woman’s body and mind, Lamaze serves as a resource for information about what to expect and what choices are available during the childbearing years.  Lamaze education and practices are based on the best and most current medical evidence available.  Working closely with their families, health care providers and Lamaze educators, millions of pregnant women have achieved their desired childbirth outcomes using Lamaze practices.  The best way to learn about Lamaze’s steps to a safe and healthy birth is to take a class with a Lamaze certified instructor.  To find classes in your area, or for more information visit

About Push for Your Baby

Push for Your Baby was created by Lamaze International to provide expectant parents with the support and information needed to push for the safest, healthiest birth possible. Knowing how to spot good maternity care is the key to getting it, and through Lamaze childbirth education classes, parents-to-be can get the tools needed to have the best birth day. For more information visit:




[5] Declercq ER, Sakala C, Corry MP, Applebaum S. Listening to Mothers II: Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Childbirth Connection, October 2006.





[10] MacDorman MF, Menacker F, Declercq ER. Cesarean Birth in the United States: Epidemiology, Trends, and Outcomes.  Clin Perinatol 35 (2008) 293-307.

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