The statistics are discouraging. According to the Center for Disease Control, Black women are up to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women – a disparity that increases with the age of the mother. Though research has highlighted this fact for years, the stories of Black women who succumb to pregnancy-related complications, still feel endless. It’s why personal care brand Dove has teamed up with Black Mamas Matter Alliance to help advance the discussion on Black maternal health and close the Black maternal care gap.
“We view our role of driving change as an extension of our responsibility as leaders in the beauty industry,” says Sally Brown, Global Brand Director at Unilever. “As a brand born to provide care to new families, we are proud to use our platform to amplify awareness of Black maternal health and take immediate action. Across Dove, we believe that all families deserve equitable care, including Black expectant mothers, and acknowledge that significant gaps also exist in other communities.”
Dove is now in the early stages of helping to address the maternal care gap that exists for Black birthing people and Brown says that as a brand, they are taking time to continue to learn more before developing a long-term plan. They have partnered with BMMA because, Brown explains, Black moms have not always received the care they deserve throughout their pregnancy journey, and “Baby Dove felt a responsibility to take direct action.” To fully understand the scope of the problem, they tapped into the wealth of knowledge in the Black maternal health space. “We recognized the Black Mamas Matter Alliance as a leading advocacy group, who work to ensure that all Black Mamas have the rights, respect, and resources to thrive before, during, and after pregnancy. Under their network’s advisement and strategic counsel, we were able to gain insight into where we can make an immediate impact, which led to the Black Birth Equity Fund.”
The fund has an aim of distributing grants up to $1,300 to more than 190 Black birthing people within the first six months. From there they will continue to make evaluations and adjustments. The initial application for mothers who wish to benefit from the additional money lasts until the end of 2021, “but we will evaluate the reach and outcomes prior to the window closing in order to determine potential extensions, and ways to continue direct support to Black birthing individuals and issues surrounding Black maternal health,” says Brown.
Discussions centered on how to better care for Black birthing people and their babies is ongoing and has been for years. Though there are still far too many women who do not receive adequate care, Angela D. Aina, Co-Founding Executive Director at BMMA, says Progress has been made. “There's growing public, systems, and governmental awareness of Black maternal mortality in the U.S. Additionally, there has been an increase in the amount of Black healthcare professionals becoming Doulas, birth workers, and starting service-based organizations across the country,” she notes. However, Aina and BMMA are pushing for this progress to be sustained through policy. She looks to legislation, like the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, that aims to make critical investments in addressing maternal health inequities, as a way federal action can help to improve health outcomes. “It’s also crucial for us to remove structural barriers, such as health insurance policies that do not offer reimbursement for doula services, even though the added support of a doula is proven to significantly improve birthing journeys,” Aina adds.
Nearly a year ago, under the leadership of Mayor London Breed, San Francisco embarked on a pilot program aimed at improving health outcomes for women of color and their children. Much like the Dove fund, expectant mothers were given stipends to help toward their care during a critical time. “I always see it as a step in the right direction when decision-makers in any city or state take action in following through on their commitment to addressing social injustices-- in this case, offering funds to support Black and Pacific Islander women in San Francisco for the duration of their pregnancy and for six months postpartum,” says Aina of the decision. She hopes that other cities and states can follow the example and create systemic change in policy that centers health equity at all levels.
On a personal note, the issue of maternal mortality is very dear to her. As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she has been surrounded by a community of Nigerian women who are or were reproductive rights activists and faced hurdles to sustain their community-based care work. The recognition for this life changing work has often been eclipsed by white women in the global reproductive health space. As Aina matriculated through her academic and professional career, she devoted her public health work to be framed by what she describes as “Black feminist and womanist principles with a central focus on uplifting and sustaining Black women's leadership in maternal health.”
“This is in part why BMMA is a Black women-led, cross-sectoral alliance,” Aina shares. “And the purpose is to create a platform for Black women’s intellectual thought, perspectives, and cultural and traditional practices, as it relates to birthing, pregnancy, and maternity care overall.” This thought has furthered the conversation and created an awareness within the medical field. Still, Aina believes that in order to improve the quality of care Black women receive, it is essential for medical experts to take seriously qualitative data sources, “to really listen to women’s stories in order to understand the many ways they’re currently being failed in labor and delivery wards around the country.” BMMA has been conducting focus groups with Black women, doulas, and midwives to talk about their experiences during labor and delivery. What’s been revealed is the traumatic and, sometimes, violent experiences that Black women face in the hospital system. “There’s a lot of mistreatment, disrespect, and abuse,” says the maternal health advocate. “There’s an urgent need to further invest in both qualitative and quantitative research that provides a clearer understanding of why the Black maternal health gap continues to widen.”
Baby Dove is putting money, resources, and even product behind that goal. Last month the brand launched a new collection, available nationwide exclusively at Walmart and on walmart.com. “The Baby Dove Curl Nourishment Collection detangles and nourishes for soft, healthy-looking hair by providing greater moisture to baby’s curls, coils, and waves,” says Brown. “While there are other skincare brands on the market for melanin-rich skin, they are often unavailable within the baby care aisle of mass retailers. Through Baby Dove’s new collection, we are providing parents with an easily accessible choice created by a trusted heritage brand.” Alongside the new products, Baby Dove collaborated with illustrator Keturah Ariel Nailah Bobo on a limited-edition gift set with 100% of the profits going to the Black Birth Equity Fund.