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Digital Platforms are Changing the Future of Black Maternal Health

By Nina Bahadur
Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD, MPH
Kimberly Seals Allers has always loved helping people share their stories. 

And the journalist and author’s app Irth (“birth,” without the b for “bias”) is a platform for Black and Brown families to do just that — a place to candidly share both their good and bad experiences with different healthcare teams during pregnancy and postpartum, including pediatricians.

In one review, a user raves about a bilingual pediatrician who never makes her feel rushed or judges her parenting decisions.

In another, a user recounts going to an emergency room when she was 32 weeks pregnant, only to find that the healthcare professionals dismissed her pain and treated her with a lack of respect.

Digital Platforms for Black Mothers

Other users can search through these stories and reviews, helping them select their own clinicians. 

“One of the things that we’ve learned throughout history is that the negative experiences of people of color in the healthcare system have been ignored,” Seals Allers says. “They’ve been dismissed, and they’ve been ‘explained away.’” 

If I’ve had a bad experience, I’ve told my girlfriends, and I’ve told my family members, but how do I alert my community beyond the people I know? This is the power of technology. For us to share our individual experiences, leveraging it into community knowledge.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Journalist and author, creator of Irth app

But digital platforms, she says, allow us to “use consumer power to share these experiences, to inform and protect our community. And it also helps us drive transparency and accountability.”

Seals Allers says that birth workers, like doulas and midwives, have long been sharing information with other pregnant folks about which providers to see and who to avoid — “but it’s not information being shared widely,” she says. 

“If I’ve had a bad experience, I’ve told my girlfriends, and I’ve told my family members, but how do I alert my community beyond the people I know? This is the power of technology. For us to share our individual experiences, leveraging it into community knowledge.”

Other users can search through these stories and reviews, helping them select their own clinicians. 

“One of the things that we’ve learned throughout history is that the negative experiences of people of color in the healthcare system have been ignored,” Seals Allers says. “They’ve been dismissed, and they’ve been ‘explained away.’” 

If I’ve had a bad experience, I’ve told my girlfriends, and I’ve told my family members, but how do I alert my community beyond the people I know? This is the power of technology. For us to share our individual experiences, leveraging it into community knowledge.
Kimberly Seals Allers
Journalist and author, creator of Irth app

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Seals Allers.

But digital platforms, she says, allow us to “use consumer power to share these experiences, to inform and protect our community. And it also helps us drive transparency and accountability.”

Seals Allers says that birth workers, like doulas and midwives, have long been sharing information with other pregnant folks about which providers to see and who to avoid — “but it’s not information being shared widely,” she says. 

“If I’ve had a bad experience, I’ve told my girlfriends, and I’ve told my family members, but how do I alert my community beyond the people I know? This is the power of technology. For us to share our individual experiences, leveraging it into community knowledge.”

Maternal Care is Failing Black Mothers

According to the CDC, approximately 700 moms die each year from pregnancy-related causes. 50,000 more experience serious complications.

Black moms are three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white moms.

Black babies are more than twice as likely to die as white babies, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Compared to their white counterparts, Black moms are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to live in healthcare deserts.

The U.S. healthcare system is failing people when pregnancy outcomes depend on the color of one’s skin. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 700 moms die each year from pregnancy-related causes, and 50,000 more experience serious complications — even though most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. 

Black moms are three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white moms. These disparities affect newborns, too. Black babies are more than twice as likely to die as white babies, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I know many educated black women who have all of the access to care and still have died or had major, unnecessary complications from childbirth.
Dr. Alana Biggers
Board-certified internal medicine physician and assistant professor, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

Researchers say that there are varied, complex factors behind this disparity. Compared to their white counterparts, Black moms are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to live in healthcare deserts.

Bias plays a part, too: Research shows that healthcare professionals are less likely to believe Black women who say that they’re in pain.

Implicit and explicit bias put Black mothers at risk, even when they have access to healthcare.

“I know many educated black women who have all of the access to care and still have died or had major, unnecessary complications from childbirth,” says Dr. Alana Biggers, a board certified internal medicine physician and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

The story of Shalon Irving is just one tragic example. 

In 2017, Irving died 3 weeks after giving birth to her daughter. The week before she died, she had experienced warning symptoms, including elevated blood pressure, headaches, and swelling in her legs. 

She repeatedly sought medical care, but healthcare professionals dismissed her concerns. She had a cardiac arrest at home and died in the hospital a week later.

In 2017, tennis star ​​Serena Williams nearly died from pregnancy-related complications. Her healthcare team at first dismissed her concerns that she had a blood clot in her lungs, even though she was clearly recognizing symptoms of the condition, which she’d had before.

Research on racial bias against Black mothers, as well as many accounts from those who’ve experienced it firsthand, have shown that it’s not simply access to care but also biases in healthcare that are putting Black women at risk in the United States, according to an article in the Lancet.

Getting Black Mothers the Care They Need

Organizations like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) are working to raise awareness, fund research, inform policy, and find solutions. 

Legislators are working to pass the MOMNIBUS Act, a group of nine bills that will “fill gaps in existing legislation to comprehensively address every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis in America.”

Pushes for Medicaid expansion would give healthcare coverage to more postpartum women. Implicit bias training programs are being introduced for medical professionals, and hospitals are standardizing their care. 

Lack of access to healthcare is a major factor, says Padmini Murthy, MD, MPH, professor of health policy and management at New York Medical College. “It’s not just about having new laws. [It’s about,] How will they be enacted? How are they going to trickle down to the community?”

One way to improve access for Black moms? Digital platforms.

Digital Platforms Help Black Families Connect to Healthcare

One way that Black families can access healthcare that works for them is through digital platforms. These can virtually connect people with healthcare professionals, and they provide a place for communities to share information and support.

According to Healthline’s own Future of Wellness Survey, pregnant People of Color are most likely to feel that technology isn’t being designed for them or their needs. But when platforms do meet their needs, they’re more likely than white pregnant people to use them. 

Our hope is that there will be an end to traumatic health experiences for this patient population.
Ashlee Wisdom, MPH, and Eddwina Bright, MPH
Health in Her HUE founders

In addition to Irth helping Black families choose providers, there are also a number of platforms designed to connect Black and Brown users with experienced healthcare professionals and birth workers they can trust: 

  • The Sista Midwife Directory, an online database that lists Black doulas and midwives by geographic location
  • Mae, an app that helps connect Black doulas with families seeking care 
  • Zoula, which offers virtual seminars and forums moderated by medical professionals
  • Health in Her HUE, which connects users with culturally competent care providers and offers them health content and access to community forums.

“Our aim is to be the premier source for culturally sensitive healthcare providers and information for Black women,” Health in Her HUE founders Ashlee Wisdom, MPH, and Eddwina Bright, MPH, write in an email. “Our hope is that there will be an end to traumatic health experiences for this patient population.”

As the platform grows, it will also offer further education for healthcare professionals through an extensive cultural sensitivity training and curriculum.

“Each provider listed on the platform will be expected to continuously engage with this content to ensure that they are providing the best possible care to Black women.”

Better representation in research

Tech can also help gather data from Black families, so researchers can figure out what patients need and how to give it to them. It’s been well-documented that Black people are underrepresented in clinical research, and a number of projects are working to change that.

“Our mission is to create the largest database of information about pregnancy,” says Toluwalase Ajayi, MD, a clinical researcher at the Scripps Research Translational Institute and the principal investigator of the recently launched PowerMom study. 

We know there's a lack of diversity in research and a lot of exclusion of pregnant people from research.
Toluwalase Ajayi, MD
Clinical researcher, Scripps Research Translational Institute, and principal investigator, PowerMom study

Users who enroll in the study answer questions about their pregnancy and postpartum experience, on everything from their vital signs and symptoms to diet and exercise habits. 

Collecting this data will help researchers learn more about health issues specific to pregnant People of Color and better equip them to design treatment protocols and interventions in the future.

“We know there’s a lack of diversity in research and a lot of exclusion of pregnant people from research,” Ajayi says. 

The study collects information that researchers can use to find patterns in outcomes, using parameters like race, age, and geographic location. This data can then be used to inform policy.

“Technology can really help reduce healthcare disparities,” Ajayi adds. “It can help increase access to care and bring the joy back to medicine. We all like being at the bedside with our patients, but we need to figure out how to reach them before they get very sick. And we need to make our marginalized patients feel seen and heard.”

Black families deserve more than just survival — digital platforms give them space to share their stories, and places to celebrate. 

Ajayi says that the COVID-19 pandemic has “pushed the innovation channel,” showing people what really is possible in terms of telehealth access and data collection. She says that gathering data about what people need will help us figure out how to get medical care to people who need it.

“We can harness telemedicine, we can use mobile applications, we can get more information, we can send community healthcare workers to care for patients. We can have resources in place.” 

Finding Spaces Online to Rejoice

Black families deserve more than just survival — digital platforms give them space to share their stories, and places to celebrate. 

Along with apps and platforms that connect parents and parents-to-be with medical care, online communities offer support and celebration, too. Statistics don’t tell the full story about what it’s like to be pregnant or give birth as a Person of Color, so other platforms are telling those important stories. 

The NATAL podcast, produced and hosted by Martina Abrahams Ilunga and Gabrielle Horton, which premiered in April 2020, is about “birthing while Black” in the United States.

People are making these choices they shouldn’t have to make. Can I afford this doula? Can I afford this test? We are creating these binaries that really shouldn’t exist.
Gabrielle Horton
Executive producer and host, NATAL podcast

“We’re committed to telling Black stories that center Black people,” Abrahams Ilunga says. “We knew that when we think about black birthing, there is a whole lot of negativity. There’s also a lot of joy in Black birth, there’s a lot of beauty in it." 

“We’re encompassing this and showing as many sides, backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences as we can. We didn’t want to just operate from a place of negativity.”

Through their countless interviews with moms for the podcast, Abrahams Ilunga and Horton have heard a lot about what’s working for Black families and what isn’t. 

Abrahams Ilunga feels that it’s clear that families need much more support in the postpartum period, and Horton believes that the current healthcare system is too expensive and complicated.

“Just systematically speaking, we don’t do a good job [of] taking care of people,” Horton says.

“People are making these choices they shouldn’t have to make. Can I afford this doula? Can I afford this test? We are creating these binaries that really shouldn’t exist.”

When you listen to these stories, you realize that you really are not alone in the questions and the fears and the excitement and the joy that you have.

NATAL episodes have covered a wide range of experiences — a home birth in Texas, a pregnancy loss in California, a hospital birth in Philadelphia — featuring people from a variety of economic backgrounds and family units. 

Horton and Abrahams Ilunga say that the responses to the podcast have affirmed that the work they’re doing matters — that these are stories people want to hear.

“When you listen to these stories, you realize that you really are not alone in the questions and the fears and the excitement and the joy that you have,” Horton says. 


Seals Allers, the founder of Irth, also hosts the Birthright podcast. It offers space for people of color to share their birth stories and features “restoration” episodes in which people who went through traumatic birth experiences are paired with perinatal mental health specialists to start their healing journeys.

“We’ve also interviewed historians, OB-GYNs, midwives, and other voices to really bring context to each story,” Seals Allers says. 

“I want people to walk away from each podcast episode understanding the context, but also thinking, ‘This person had this in place. So if I want to have a joyful experience, I may need to think about this.’ It's about lessons, learnings, and context.”

Other digital spaces focus on Black and Brown parenthood, work-life balance, and mental health. 

Mater mea’s mission with our pregnancy coverage is to talk about people who are having empowered pregnancies, and spotlighting organizations that are doing the work to make birthing a safe experience for Black moms.
Tomi Akitunde
Founder, mater mea

Tomi Akitunde founded the website mater mea in 2012 after noticing that mainstream conversations about “leaning in” and “having it all” didn’t touch on what those concepts looked like for Black women. 

Since then, the site has shifted to what she describes as “a space for Black parents to get answers to their work life and parenting questions, as well as a space to showcase intentional parenting, and mindful parenting through a Black lens.” As the mater mea Twitter bio explains, it’s like “Black mom Google.”

Tomi Akitunde. Photo by Costa Kirkwood.

Akitunde says that coverage of Black maternal health often focuses on data points and grim statistics and frequently skims over the systemic reasons for these disparities.

“That’s why mater mea’s mission with our pregnancy coverage is to talk about people who are having empowered pregnancies, and spotlighting organizations that are doing the work to make birthing a safe experience for Black moms,” she says. 

Having a child is a very natural process and yet one that still requires a tremendous amount of education and advocacy to do safely.
Eddwina Bright, MPH
Co-founder, Health in Her HUE

“We’re showcasing other stories outside of that, because we’re more than just these really, really scary headlines. When I see publications only repeating the same story, it just reinforces the need for spaces like mater mea to exist, where people who are part of the community write stories that actually empower and support Black moms instead of terrifying and pathologizing them.”

Founders and physicians alike say that the right platforms can make a tremendous difference during pregnancy, postpartum, and parenthood. They can help parents feel less alone, give them access to health education, connect them to healthcare, and answer their questions.

“When I think about my own birthing experience, there was so much that I didn’t know,” says Health in Her HUE co-founder Eddwina Bright. 

“More importantly, I didn’t know what questions to ask. Having a child is a very natural process and yet one that still requires a tremendous amount of education and advocacy to do safely.”

How to Help

Whether it’s a place for families to talk about the care they received, search for a doula who looks like them, listen to joyful birth stories, or read about Black parenting — the solutions are out there. So, how can you help? 

  • Listen to and share NATAL and Birthright episodes.
  • Contact your representative to show support for the MOMNIBUS Act and ask what other legislation is in the works to support local families.
  • Donate to the Birthright podcast’s Healing Black Birth Fund, which pairs birth trauma survivors with perinatal mental health experts.
  • Donate to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance to help further their programming.

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