How to improve maternal and infant health in New Jersey

Jill Wodnick is among the handful of doulas, nurses, doctors and patients who testified about the importance of not just health, but the survival of women before, during and after pregnancy to the Human Services and Women and Children Committee members.

“It matters how women and families are treated in the most important day of their lives. It stays with us and it sets up neural networks for relationships, learning and resilience, so I am so honored we are here to improve birth in New Jersey,” said Wodnick, a doula and community educator at Montclair State University.

According to the 2018 America’s Health rankings report, women in New Jersey are dying at a rate of nearly twice the national average, and New Jersey ranks 47th out of the 50 states in maternal death.

While diversity and training has increased in the medical field, patients who testified say cultural barriers can hinder access to high-quality medical care.

“We talked about the high risk in health pre-eclampsia, hypertension. These are all indicators, right? Then we have the substance abuse, the mental abuse, the physical abuse. Then we have no health insurance and we have the low income and poverty, but there is a bigger issue which is about not feeling valued. Black women don’t feel valued when they go inside hospitals. We don’t feel our voices matter, we don’t feel that what we say is real, people think we are considered that’s there’s a background or some kind of story behind this, or we are trying to get over on the system. These things are deterrents, these are hurdles we go through going through hospitals,” said community doula Ronsha Dickerson.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, white babies in New Jersey have a mortality rate of three deaths per 1,000 live births. Black infants have a mortality rate more than three times as high at 9.7.

Those racial disparities are true among mothers as well. In 2013, in New Jersey, the rate of death during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth was 12.8 per 1,000 live births for white women and 46.5 for black women.

Medical professionals also testified about why they believe reducing unnecessary caesarean births could reduce New Jersey’s maternal mortality rate.

“The downstream effects really being the hemorrhages, the surgical adhesions, the uterine ruptures, the abnormal placentations, the cardiac events — and we are seeing more and more of this as an unpreventable cause of maternal mortalities — and the psychological stresses and anxieties that go along with cesareans sections,” said OB-GYN Dr. Andrew Rubenstein.

Wodnick says in order to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality rates and improve maternal outcomes, the state needs to expand funding for women’s health care and focus on making at-risk women have safe pregnancy and healthy babies.

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