Project Summary

What is this research about?

Heart disease (e.g., heart attack, stroke) is a major threat to safe motherhood and is the leading cause of maternal death in the United States, responsible for nearly 50 percent of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women, three times the rate of white women, and is largely preventable. It is well established that eating healthy foods and monitoring blood pressure can help prevent heart disease. While prior studies addressing these individual behaviors have led to some success, a single individual-level approach has not been enough to stop the rising rate of Black maternal mortality. Researchers have also established that depression, social isolation, and stress from racism lead to poor heart outcomes. But few studies have treated these psychosocial and structural factors in addition to individual behaviors to ensure optimal Black maternal heart health, particularly for mothers at higher risk (e.g., those with high blood pressure and/or obesity).

To meet this need, the research team plans to compare two approaches that treat multiple factors leading to heart disease among 432 patients age 18 and older who self-identify as Black or African American, have either obesity and/or high blood pressure, are less than 24 weeks pregnant, and have a smart phone. Both approaches address individual behaviors through nutrition and physical activity text messages and home blood pressure self-monitoring as well as provide training to medical care providers in order to reduce patients’ experiences of racism or mistreatment. But only one of the approaches being studied also adds supports for Black women by Black women (community doula care, mental health services, and lactation consultation) during their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum in order to learn if these supports lead to lower blood pressure and also treat social isolation, depression, and increase experiences of respectful maternity care.

Who can this research help?

This study will increase Black mothers’ understanding of the many influences on their heart health. Findings from this study will help Black women with obesity and/or high blood pressure make informed decisions about the use of community doulas, lactation professionals, and psychotherapists as part of their care to reduce risks for heart disease during pregnancy or in the first year after their baby is born. Results may also strengthen health systems’ commitment to anti-racism training as part of their efforts to provide quality health care for Black pregnant and postpartum people. And further, this research may provide evidence to insurance companies that coverage of this study’s package of supports is needed.

What outcomes are being studied?

The primary outcome is change in maternal blood pressure at six weeks and one year after giving birth. The team will also evaluate how well the treatments are implemented and able to reach patients, be adopted into practice consistently, and lead to healthcare provider and patient satisfaction.

The team will analyze outcomes that patient partners have identified as important. These include perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (e.g., postpartum depression), emotional and informational support, stress, and experiences of respectful maternity care. In addition, the study team will look at clinical outcomes including if and for how long patients breastfeed, maternal body weight, blood pressure disorders of pregnancy, how the patient gave birth (e.g., vaginal or cesarean), baby’s birth weight, and how many weeks pregnant mothers were at the time of birth.

How long does this study last?

Final follow-up of primary outcomes is at one year postpartum (i.e., approximately 18 months from enrollment).

How are stakeholders involved?

The research team believes that efforts to improve Black maternal heart health will be most effective when partnered with patients and community leaders that have shared lived experience. Study leadership is an equitable partnership by an academic physician-researcher and community-based Black provider who herself experienced heart health complications in her pregnancy. There are three other patient investigators who will also be involved in all aspects of the planning, delivery, and evaluation of the treatments, including serving as lead doulas, therapists, and lactation professionals. Patient representatives will make up the majority of the study’s advisory board to give feedback and further guide the team’s efforts throughout the five years of the project. Finally, patient, health system, and community provider stakeholders will provide feedback and guidance through focus groups over the entire study duration to ensure adoption of treatments.

Project Information

Sharon Herring, MD, MPH
Saleemah NcNeil, MS, MFT
Temple University

Key Dates

July 2021
December 2027


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Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
Funding Opportunity Type
Research Priority Area
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Last updated: March 16, 2022