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IUI honors Black Maternal Health Week with town hall

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Indiana University-Indianapolis hosted a guest panel Thursday, April 11 to discuss the infant and maternal health care issues modern Black American women face.

Taking place during Black Maternal Health Week, the town hall featured panelists Dr. Jill Inderstrodt, Rep. Vanessa Summers, Lauren Lancaster and Kaley Liang.

Lauren Lancaster (Photos/Hanna Rauworth)

All well-known in their respective fields, the panelists discussed a wide range of topics from the disparities Black women face when breastfeeding to the much higher maternal mortality rates that Black women experience.

Specifically in Indiana, as mentioned by Lancaster, Black women are 2-3 times more likely to die during and directly after childbirth. A member of the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, Lancaster said Indiana ranks third in the highest number of maternal deaths, a statistic that, coupled with the lack of access to prenatal care, highlights the disparities Black women are currently facing during pregnancy.

State Legislator Vanessa Summers echoed the thought, saying “We are looking at an epidemic of African American mothers dying simply because they are pregnant.”

As a state legislator since 1991, Summers was a key figure in passing House Bill 1294 which prevents pregnant women from being shackled while incarcerated in the state of Indiana.

Summers utilized her time on the panel to promote “speaking truth to power” and encouraging those present to vote for lawmakers they feel reflect their values.

“I always go to work with the mindset of changing the minds of people for progress,” said Summers.

Dr. Jill Inderstrodt, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at IUI, focused her topic of discussion on Black women and breastfeeding, citing that many Black women are more acutely targeted by formula companies and statistically do not give birth at “baby-friendly” hospitals that encourage the initiation of breastfeeding rather than pushing the use of formula.

“My goal, my why, is to make sure that all moms have the pregnancy, the birth, and the motherhood that they want,” said Inderstrodt.

Dr. Jill Inderstrodt

Kaley Liang, the last to speak, discussed Black maternal wellness and the disparities that all minorities face throughout their pregnancies and during post-partum care.

The assistant director of the IUI Echo Center, Liang works directly with Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes), whose mission is to reduce disparities in minority communities, provides learning opportunities to increase their audiences, and monitors outcomes of outreach through online databases. Project Echo is intended to help educate and encourage healthier lives for the public, particularly minorities facing health care disparities.

Aside from Project Echo, the panelists provided a multitude of ways that ordinary community members can help provide support to Black mothers including researching political candidates before voting, donating to causes that help Black mothers with access to pre-natal care, and recognizing that, overall, Black mothers want to be heard.

“Listen to Black moms. Believe Black moms,” said Inderstrodt.

To learn more about the IUI Echo Center, visit https://fsph.iupui.edu/research-centers/centers/ECHO/index.html.

Contact Staff Writer Hanna Rauworth at 317.762.7854 or follow her at @hanna.rauworth 

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