Women’s Health

Can Paid Maternity Leave Help Address Disparities in Maternal Mortality?

By Rada Dagher, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Program Director
Division of Scientific Programs
Clinical and Health Services Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Dr. Rada Dagher

Dr. Rada Dagher

Maternal mortality rates in the United States have reached an all-time high. While these rates have dropped globally in the last few decades1, in the United States, they have more than doubled between 1987 and 20152. The picture is even grimmer for racial and ethnic minority communities, where African American and American Indian/Alaska Native women have the highest maternal mortality rates of all racial/ethnic groups2.

While most of the discussions about the maternal mortality crisis focus on the physical causes of death, the relationship between maternal mental health and mortality rates is largely ignored. For example, postpartum depression leads the list of mental health conditions affecting new mothers, and women experiencing this disorder may have suicidal thoughts and thoughts of harming the baby3. The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic that is causing COVID-19 disease outbreaks is another factor to consider. Due to social distancing, women have much lower access to the usual support systems (e.g. family, doulas) that promote their mental health during the vulnerable period of transitioning into motherhood. Recently published data from China on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests increased rates of postpartum depression4 among Chinese women. Moreover, a recent report from a convenience sample of U.S. mothers of children of ages 0-18 months, shows elevated depression (34.1%) and anxiety (34.6%) rates5. Yet, the currently proposed interventions to address maternal mortality do not consider approaches to prevent and/or treat postpartum depression. One such approach is providing paid leave for new mothers. Continue reading “Can Paid Maternity Leave Help Address Disparities in Maternal Mortality?”

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Guest Blog Post: Reducing Health Disparities to Improve the Health of All Women

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This is part of a series of guest NIMHD Insights blog posts where NIH Institute and Center Directors highlight initiatives, resources and funding opportunities relevant to minority health and health disparities research, and training at their Institutes. The goal of this guest blog series is to link NIMHD stakeholders to minority health and health disparities-related information and opportunities across NIH.

This post is from the director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) ORWH is part of the Office of the Director of NIH, and works in partnership with the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers to ensure that women’s health research is part of the scientific framework at the NIH—and throughout the scientific community.

By Janine Austin Clayton, M.D.
Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health
Director, Office of Research on Women’s Health

Photo of Dr. Janine Austin Clayton

Dr. Janine Austin Clayton

The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), on behalf of NIH, led the development and publication of The Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Women’s Health Research, outlining NIH’s goals for advancing science for the health of women over the next 5 years. One of three guiding principles of the Strategic Plan posits that the influences on the health of women include—in addition to sex and age—race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, geographic location, disability status, and other factors. Rigorous scientific research that accounts for these influences can help us understand and address the health concerns of all populations of women, particularly women from minority populations that bear a disproportionate burden of illness.

Continue reading “Guest Blog Post: Reducing Health Disparities to Improve the Health of All Women”

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Write Your Own Story: Recognizing Your Potential as a Woman or Minority in Research

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By Anna María Nápoles, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Scientific Director
Division of Intramural Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Photo of Dr. Anna María Nápoles

Dr. Anna María Nápoles

I recently did an interview for NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, to help celebrate Women’s History Month. I spoke about how mentoring and networking can help diversify science, my work as the scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at NIMHD, and the importance of diversity in science. I also shared my personal experience, because it led me to the research that I do. It was my own family’s experiences that taught me the importance of research on health disparities.

My parents were both immigrants from rural villages in Jalisco, Mexico. My father worked two jobs that were very hard on his body, but he made sure that my two siblings and I had the benefit of an excellent education. Although he had little formal education, my father worked to better himself and was involved in politics and social volunteerism in our community. This had a lasting impact on me.

Continue reading “Write Your Own Story: Recognizing Your Potential as a Woman or Minority in Research”

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Breastfeeding Disparities in African American Women

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By Regina Smith James, M.D.
Director, Clinical and Health Services Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Photo of Dr. Regina Smith James

Dr. Regina Smith James

Some say the best things in life are free…but are they really? Well, when it comes to providing our babies with the best nutrition ever, breastfeeding is not only economical, but it has positive health effects for both baby and mom. Did you know that breast milk is uniquely suited to your baby’s nutritional needs, with immunologic and anti-inflammatory properties? Yes, it’s true! And the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, with gradual introduction of solid foods after 6 months while continuing to breastfeed up to 1 year.

What are some of the health benefits of breastfeeding? Breast milk not only offers a nutritionally balanced meal, but some studies suggest that breastfeeding may even reduce the risk for certain allergic diseases, asthma, and obesity in your baby, as well as type 2 diabetes in moms. Also, breastfeeding creates a close bond between mother and child. And from a financial standpoint, breastfeeding is economical. The United States Breastfeeding Committee noted that families who followed optimal breastfeeding practices could save approximately $1,500 that would have gone toward infant formula in the first year alone. Imagine what you could do with those extra dollars!

Continue reading “Breastfeeding Disparities in African American Women”

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