Minority mothers are especially susceptible to mistreatment.
The distressing reality of expecting mothers being mistreated during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States is coming to light, revealing a troubling statistic: 1 in 5 mothers in the U.S. are reporting mistreatment from healthcare professionals. A survey encompassing more than 2,400 new mothers shows the pressing need for change in the realm of maternity care. Published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the research shows the rates of mistreatment were higher among Black, Hispanic, and multiracial women. About 30% of Black and Hispanic mothers reported some form of mistreatment and 40% reported discrimination.
Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer, said, “The health of moms is the health of our nation. Too many women die during and after pregnancy in this country, and many women report mistreatment and discrimination during maternity care. This is unacceptable as we know mistreatment can have a negative impact on the quality of maternity care, and we have to encourage a culture of respectful maternity care.”
The findings of the survey are based on women who have at least one child under the age of 18. The survey was administered in late April, asking women to respond based on the experience they had delivering their youngest child.
Another piece of this grim situation that was brought to light was the common issue of women lacking proper insurance coverage. Women without insurance, or with public insurance only, face more instances of mistreatment during pregnancy and childbirth in comparison to those with private insurance.
Around 10% of women said that their healthcare providers mistreated them by ignoreing their requests for help, and sometimes even refusing them. The same percentage of women reported an unreasonable amount of time to respond to certain requests.
About 7% of women reported shouting or being scolded by doctors, midwives, or nurses. Close to 4% of women reported threats by their healthcare providers. Other experiences of mistreatment that were reported included violations of physical privacy and withholding or even forcing treatments.
About 10% of women experienced discrimination based on age or weight. About 12% of Black mothers reported discrimination based solely on race.
Interestingly, about 91% of surveyed women expressed contentment with the maternity care they received, while satisfaction rates plummeted for those who encountered mistreatment. This connection between mistreatment and diminished satisfaction underscores the far-reaching consequences of such negative experiences.
Among all the reported experiences of mistreatment, 75% of women still expressed satisfaction with their overall care during pregnancy. The survey also revealed that almost 50% of respondents refrained from discussing their concerns or asking additional questions with their healthcare provider. Reasons for this silence ranged from perceptions of normalcy to fear of being seen as difficult.
Dr. Wanda Barfield, co-author of the report and director of the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, underlines the importance of promoting respectful care for women during pregnancy and childbirth, saying that healthcare providers need to practice active listening and cultivating cultural awareness. The survey also suggests that healthcare systems should equip professionals to recognize unconscious bias and stigma in order to foster shared decision-making across all staff members.