If you’ve ever hesitated to ask questions during a prenatal appointment, or worse, felt ignored, disregarded or even mistreated, you’re far from alone, a new CDC survey finds. Of the 2,400 mothers who took the survey, nearly half of the respondents (44.7%) shared that they felt the need to hold back questions or concerns with their provider during prenatal visits.
The survey also found that 1 in 5 American women reported experiencing mistreatment during prenatal consultations. Nearly a third claimed they faced discrimination based on factors such as age, weight, ethnicity or income level.
Feeling unheard in prenatal care
Feeling gaslighted or unheard is unfortunately common in women’s health. But among women of color, these numbers are even more disheartening. Roughly 30% of Black, Hispanic and multiracial women reported episodes of mistreatment. This included feeling ignored, being denied help or not receiving a response in a timely manner. Reports also indicated instances of being scolded, shouted at, having their physical privacy violated, and being threatened with withholding of treatment or being forced to accept treatment they did not want.
The data is particularly startling given the current maternal mortality rates, which are at unprecedented highs. Previous research by the CDC indicated that up to 84% of maternal deaths could be preventable. The mistreatment and distrust evident in some healthcare settings could further exacerbate and contribute to adverse outcomes.
All women—including when pregnant or postpartum—are entitled to respectful, patient-centered health care.
“Women who feel safe, supported, and respected are more likely to have positive pregnancy experiences,” write the CDC report authors. Improved maternity care is directly correlated with lower risks of pregnancy complications and enhances the overall pregnancy and delivery experiences of mothers, they note.
Related: No doula? No problem—experts share how to advocate for yourself during pregnancy
The most common reasons women felt afraid to discuss their pregnancy worries with providers included thinking that what they were feeling was normal (28.8%), feeling embarrassed and not wanting to make a big deal (21.5%), having someone close tell them it was normal (21.2%), and worrying that their maternity care provider might think they were being difficult (20.7%).
Pregnancy and the postpartum period represent uniquely vulnerable stages in a woman’s life. Feelings of insecurity and mistreatment during these times can have dire repercussions for both mother and child. As Dr. Wanda Barfield, Director of the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, told The New York Times, “If women feel unheard or mistreated, they are less likely to seek care in the future.”
And at a time when many women are already opting to skip preventive care, any missed visit matters.
Though the CDC survey might not offer a nationally representative sample and had a participation rate below 50%, its results nonetheless highlight a pressing need for improvement in woman-centered prenatal and maternity care.
According to the CDC, increasing diversity among healthcare providers, embracing midwifery models, and integrating doulas could enhance healthcare experiences, particularly for racial and ethnic minority groups.
Related: Self-advocacy is crucial when it comes to combatting the Black maternal health crisis
How to advocate for yourself at medical appointments
But self-advocacy is also imperative when it comes to your healthcare, especially during times of increased need, like in pregnancy or postpartum. Here are ways to advocate for yourself with medical providers.
Here are some concrete ways you can advocate for yourself in a healthcare setting:
- Prepare a list: Write down your questions and concerns prior to your visit.
- Request medical records: Ask for a digital or printed copy for your records.
- Take names: Note the names of all healthcare professionals you interact with.
- Bring support: Invite a friend or family member to accompany you.
- Seek second opinions: Don’t hesitate to consult another specialist if needed.
- Know your rights: Be aware of your legal rights and what constitutes improper treatment.
- Be assertive: You know your body best; don’t hesitate to express how you feel.
Remember: Your health care matters and you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you feel you’re not getting the care you need, don’t hesitate to seek out another provider or practice.