There are many explanations for poor birth outcomes among African American women; they include psychological and social factors that surround the pregnancy, birth, and the months after the birth of the baby. One obvious reason for this inequity is the unequal share of social deprivation borne by pregnant black women and by women in socially isolated geographic locations.
The concept of social support and its connection to improved health outcomes is not new. Works by many researchers- Bolger& Eckenrode, 1991; Lakey & Cassady, 1990; Sarason, Sarason, & Shearin, 1986, Jackson, 2007) - all conclude that the perception of social support alone is closely tied to experiencing more stable individual health outcomes. Other researchers show that effective social support networks can reduce the risk of emotional distress and help reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression among pregnant women as well as enable them to support their child’s social and emotional development and reduce behavioral problems. This can have potentially lifelong benefits for the child, including creating and maintaining relationships. In another study of social ties and health outcomes, researchers found significant differences between the mortality rates for socially connected versus socially isolated individuals. Their research provides evidence of the importance of social connectedness for health and survival.
Social connectedness in pregnancy is valuable in helping us to better understand causes of high infant mortality rates among African Americans and among those women living in specifically affected geographic locations. Being well connected gives access to material and informational resources that can improve health. It involves both availability of support and receipt of support. The categories of social resources such as emotional support (expressions of caring and esteem), informational support (advice or guidance), and instrumental support (tangible goods or assistance with tasks individuals are important in understanding the various ways in which social relationships may influence health and well-being of pregnant women.
The Birthing Project utilizes local community volunteers to offer needed social supports to improve birth outcomes with the goal of improving birth outcomes by providing direction, emotional support, and education for women and their families.