Tiana Crawford Watts, 27, saw her doctor five months pregnant. Visiting was unusual. The ultrasound revealed a life-threatening cardiac abnormality in her baby. Voorhees resident Tiana was anxious as the squad lacked a plan.
Tiana’s care team at Nemours Children’s Health scheduled weekly visits for four months to monitor her baby boy’s progress. The team prepared surgery for his delivery and performed a complicated surgery.
Bryson had three more heart procedures a year later. Tiana wishes him success and happiness. Tiana’s tale illustrates New Jersey’s maternal health benefits for African American mothers.
In fact, New Jersey received a B- in the March of Dimes 2022 Report Card on mother and infant health for its 9.2% preterm birth rate in 2021, one of just four states to lower the rate between 2020 and 2021.
New Jersey’s five-year preterm birth rate has dropped from 9.9% to 9.2%, reversing the national trend.
However, COVID-19 has exacerbated New Jersey and national racial inequities in mother and infant health.
Black and Native American women in the US have 62% higher premature births. Their babies die twice as often as white women. Black women in New Jersey have 55% more premature births than other women.
Pregnancy-related deaths kill 700 U.S. women annually. Black and Native American women die two to three times more often from pregnancy-related reasons than white women.
A recent analysis from the New Jersey Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that Black women in New Jersey have a six-fold higher pregnancy-related death rate than white women.
New Jersey’s three-year pregnancy-related deaths were 90% avoidable, according to the research. New Jersey is addressing this situation, which is good. First Lady Tammy Murphy unveiled Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan in January 2021.
Since then, Gov. Phil Murphy has signed 43 mother and infant health bills and established innovative initiatives.
The Doula Learning Collaborative is training more professionals to help pregnant women culturally. New Jersey was among the first states to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage to a year.
The FY2023 state budget allocates over $58 million to Nurture NJ programs and policies, including $20 million for a Trenton Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center, $17 million to develop the universal newborn home visitation program, and $15 million to raise Medicaid rates for maternity care providers.
Our federal lawmakers may follow New Jersey’s lead by passing crucial maternal health legislation during Congress’ lame duck session.
Senator Cory Booker, Representatives Lauren Underwood and Alma Adams, and the Black Maternal Health Caucus sponsored the 2021 Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.
To address the maternal health crisis, the Momnibus asks for investments in socioeconomic determinants of health like housing, transportation, and nutrition, and funds community-based groups to improve maternal health outcomes and promote justice.
The 118th Congress should prioritise maternal and child health and include the Momnibus in its year-end package. Pregnant mothers must feel safe.
State measures have improved maternal health in New Jersey. Congress must assure equal birth outcomes for Americans.
March of Dimes senior vice president of public policy & government affairs Stacey Brayboy.
Nemours Children’s Health executive vice president and chief population health officer Kara Odom Walker, MD, MPH, MSHS.