Physician is redefining maternal health equity

Black women and their babies face substantially higher rates of complications and mortality

Physician is redefining maternal health equity

Having a baby should be one of the most joyful times in a woman’s life. But for women of color, especially black women, the pregnancy experience frequently also triggers fear and anxiety. Black women and their babies, at all socioeconomic levels, face substantially higher rates of complications and mortality during pregnancy than white women. One dynamic physician is teaching women what they need to know to help turn this situation around.

Yamicia Connor, MD, Ph.D., MPH is a Harvard-MIT-educated OB-GYN, surgeon, research scientist, engineer and mother of three. She’s using her unique background to serve as the driving force behind establishing greater equity in women’s healthcare.

“My passion is improving the lives of women,” she says. “Black women, in particular, face so many challenges both in pregnancy and their everyday lives. I am dedicated to advancing women and their contributions to their families, society and the world. When you have kids, it makes you even more invested in making the world a better place.”

The statistics are both revealing and alarming

“The richest Black women have infant mortality rates at about the same level as the poorest white women,” Connor confirms. “Maternal mortality rates are just as high among the highest income Black women as among low-income white women.”

Where a woman lives can also impact her level of care. “It’s very different practicing medicine in a big teaching hospital versus a rural hospital, which is the type of setting where most care in the U.S. is provided. Even with the best intentions, the medical staff may not have the knowledge, familiarity and resources to provide the best care possible.”

Educating oneself will help bring about change

Connor wants to redefine standards in women’s healthcare in part by equipping patients with more knowledge. “We know a lot more about pregnancy care now than we did 10 to 15 years ago. There are also a lot more tools available,” she says.

“We don’t want women to feel the burden of managing their pregnancies. That’s what their medical professionals are there for.

However, we do want women to know the key questions to ask and to understand the standards of care they should expect to receive.”

These include:

1. Genetic testing should be offered at the beginning of pregnancy. “This is particularly important if a woman has any concerns in her background such as a history of disabilities and learning delays that increase the likelihood that she would benefit from genetic testing and counseling.”

2. A detailed fetal scan must be done at around 18 to 20 weeks. “This should be routine, but I’ve seen women not get it.”

3. Diabetes testing should be done at around 28 weeks or potentially earlier in the first trimester. “This is especially important if there are any risk factors such as obesity or elevated hemoglobin A1C.”

4. Decreased fetal movement should always be evaluated, especially after 28 weeks. “A woman should not be embarrassed if she goes in multiple times because she can’t feel the baby. An ultrasound can assess issues with the placenta and fluid abnormalities, and evaluate the baby’s movements and breathing. I’d rather reassure patients that their babies look great than have them sit home and worry.”

5. Headaches during pregnancy must be taken seriously. “If acetaminophen, hydration and rest don’t resolve a headache, her doctor should be consulted. Some headaches may be a symptom of severe preeclampsia, which can progress to eclampsia.”

Connor is committed to educating both patients and physicians on the most equitable and fair healthcare possible. “We want pregnancy experiences to be filled with joy, not fear. The best way to accomplish that is to ensure pregnancies are safe.”

She concludes, “To foster meaningful change, we must empower Black women during their healthcare journeys. It is imperative that we amplify female voices.”

Learn more about how Connor is working to bring about change here.

Yamicia Connor is an experienced OB-GYN with a heart for change. She uses her medical know-how and passion for justice to fight for every woman's right to good health. After completing her undergraduate education at MIT, she earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School through the Harvard-MIT Health Science and Technology Department and a PhD from MIT in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. Following the completion of her OB-GYN residency, a transformative journey that honed her skills and deepened her commitment to advancing women's health, she pursued a Commonwealth Fellowship in Minority Health Policy. She acquired a Master of Public Health (MPH), further enriching her perspective on healthcare delivery and policy. Connor founded 'Race to Better Health' and 'Diosa Ara', initiatives that embody her dedication to improving health outcomes and advocating for policy change.

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