COVID-19 presents new concerns for all births and particularly for Black women. Research shows that disturbing disparities still exist in NYC between the health outcomes of pregnant Black and White women and their newborns.
Before this pandemic, Black women in NYC were 8 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women. We also know that the coronavirus is impacting Black people at disproportionate rates, adding another layer of complication and fear for expectant mothers of color. They must navigate increasingly stressful and dangerous situations while giving birth, as hospitals fight to contain the spread of the virus.
The added complications of shortened and more isolated hospital stays, limitations on visitors and birth supports like doulas, and misinformation about the coronavirus means that some mothers are unable to get the care and support they need.
FPHNYC is committed to creating a city where every mother and child has the support they need to thrive, even during a pandemic. As COVID-19 has transformed NYC, we continue to pilot innovative ways to address inequities and adapt existing programs to support mothers and babies in our most vulnerable communities.
While breastfeeding provides significant health benefits for both mothers and babies, a Health Department report shows that rates of breastfeeding are lower among Black, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Islander mothers compared with White mothers in NYC. In response, FPHNYC worked with the Health Department to set up Baby Cafés® prior to the pandemic in East Harlem, Brownsville, and the Bronx, based on the Baby Café USA© model. These spaces provide emotional, educational, and social support for women who are breastfeeding, intending to breastfeed, or want to learn more. [See our August 2022 blog post on Breastfeeding Awareness Month and Baby Cafés®].
Advocating for Mothers’ Rights
Staff have adapted programming to provide trainings on pregnant people’s rights during COVID-19. They are also countering misinformation with facts from trusted sources like the Health Department, the NYC Commission on Human Rights, and A Better Balance, a national advocacy group that aims to improve quality of life for pregnant and parenting families.
When in-person sessions were put on pause in March, I was really glad we were able to move to a virtual setting so quickly. Even though we can’t meet in person right now, I look forward to seeing everyone’s faces on the screen. East Harlem Baby Cafe is so great for the community and I wish every mom could attend!Zoya
Providing Support from Afar
The support provided by the Baby Café’s® communities is empowering new moms. One mother, who had recently delivered twins at 34 weeks, was only allowed to see and nurse one baby per day because of hospital restrictions due to the virus. Frustrated and concerned, she contacted her Baby Café® group seeking support. The group was able to help her advocate for her rights, connect her with a social worker and doula, and petition the hospital so she could see both of her babies each day during her stay.
“Without the support of my Baby Café group, I don’t know what I would have done. I was alone at the hospital and really concerned for my babies’ health, especially at such a crucial moment. Thanks to my group, I was able to advocate for my rights and my babies’ rights so I could breastfeed them and help give them a healthier start.”
The Baby Cafés® continue to provide vital support to participants, some of whom are overwhelmed at home, live in shelters, or are struggling with social isolation. Staff are working tirelessly to link participants to online resources and programs that can support their mental health, assist with breastfeeding skills, provide food, and empower them to advocate for themselves and practice self care. By coordinating and securing funds for these programs, FPHNYC ensures they have the resources to continue serving people who rely on these services.
Our Work Continues
The hard work of ensuring the health and safety of mothers and babies doesn’t stop during a pandemic. In fact, it is even more critical in this moment. Protecting and improving the health of mothers and babies will always be core priority of FPHNYC and our partners at the Health Department. We won’t stop until every family in NYC has the support they need to thrive.
If you are interested in supporting our work, consider donating to our Healthy Mothers and Babies Fund.