The coronavirus pandemic has increased workplace challenges and health care barriers for women and mothers.
The strain on working parents is clear and disproportionately affecting mothers, who are taking on the extra share of childcare and home-schooling.
Five months into the worst global pandemic nearly all of us have ever seen, the topic of women’s health remains a major focus. Health plans and employers, everyone from small to Fortune 100, need to be taking women’s health and child wellbeing immensely more seriously now than in previous decades. Some are, and these forward-thinking trailblazers are ones that I encourage others to follow.
So why is women’s health such an important focus for chief medical officers, chief people officers, chief commercial officers, chief diversity officers, leadership, founders and the board room now? Shouldn’t it have always been, and shouldn’t it always be?
COVID-19 has exposed gaps, inequalities and disparities within every facet of our society including the health care system. However, exposing health care inequities could result in positive and long overdue changes. Granted the hundreds of thousands of deaths, the millions of infections, and the entire global shift of our daily way of life as we knew it has changed – and I am in no way saying that this pandemic is a positive, far, far from it. But, if this once-in-a-hundred-years type of public health crisis continues, and forces the aforementioned corporate leaders to focus more on, adapt, and dedicate more resources to physical and mental health — especially for women — then perhaps this is some tiny, tiny silver lining.
There are a few major reasons why the need for employers to focus on women’s health care is of the utmost importance now more than ever. And each is only going to be more important as the summer winds down, we try to somehow tip-toe into and reenter the annual back-to-school transition and even head back into the office every morning.
Mental health for expecting and new mothers
The strain on working parents is clear and disproportionately affecting mothers, who are taking on the extra share of childcare and home-schooling. The lines between our work-selves and family lives have blurred, increasing the gender gap by 20 to 50% for women in heterosexual couples.
New and expecting mothers face increased stress, with the effects of COVID-19 on the baby in utero still opaque. Parents are being sent home 24 hours after giving birth, and medical distancing protocols may negatively impact the ability to screen patients for perinatal mood disorders in the postpartum checkup visit. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the cost of untreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) totaled $14 billion USD in 2017, with an average cost of $31,800 per mother-child pair.
Digital support systems that deliver EPDS and PHQ-9 depression tools combined with mental health social workers and coaching teams are immensely valuable today. These are strange and challenging times, and health care platforms utilized by employers need to be there every day to provide trustworthy information and virtual support to improve the chances of a healthy childbirth outcome and family.
Health care inequities for women and moms of color
A recent survey administered by Ovia Health and March of Dimes revealed 61 percent of black women reported receiving less frequent, and lower quality care (compared to 52 percent of white women) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maternal health outcomes pre-COVID-19 revealed a racial divide that’s devastating: Black women are three times more likely to experience maternal mortality than white women.
In a recent virtual event hosted by Ovia Health with Dr. Joia Perry, founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, Dr. Perry discussed birth equity as the assurance of optimal conditions for birth for black mothers, “so that we don’t have people just survive pregnancy and say, ‘Oh, thank God I made it through,’ that they should have the right to thrive and live their best lives.”
Relationship violence puts maternal outcomes at risk
At the start of the pandemic, there was a national surge in calls to police and domestic violence hotlines. Relationship violence impacts one in five women nationally and is associated with adverse health outcomes like preterm delivery (CDC.) Social distancing combined with the recessionary environment threatens the family dynamics, which is why we identified it as an imperative to focus on mental and social wellbeing for our community.
We introduced new tools to self-monitor relationship stress in a private, digital environment with concierge navigation to mental health providers and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) hotlines.
Impacts on childbirth
Parents are questioning their birth plans and hospital choices due to fears of delivering alone or contracting COVID-19. We saw a 400% increase in interest in home births in the wake of the shut-down order. Developing a birth plan, utilizing things such as one-on-one virtual support systems, can help new moms feel more confident and in control when they go into labor.
Additionally, economists predict that there will be a decline in the birth rate due to the pandemic for a multitude of reasons. from heightened uncertainty to the ongoing challenges of being a working parent in the U.S., to additional burdens falling on certain racial groups, all of which will affect the decision to start or grow a family.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased workplace challenges and health care barriers for women and mothers, and could very well threaten childbirth outcomes and the long term wellbeing of the family. Women and families are living in fear. Wondering if they should delay getting pregnant or if they can breastfeed, as well as concerns about shortages of diapers, formula and other WIC eligible resources. It is imperative that companies take urgent action to prioritize women’s health and family well-being now in order to preserve and improve the future for generations to come.