A Spotlight on Black Maternal Health
April 11-17 is Black Maternal Health Week, which was founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance I’m proud that a group like this Black women-led cross-sectoral alliance has been so successful in elevating this focus on Black maternal health inequity to the national level.
Black women in the United States are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, and Black women suffer from life-threatening pregnancy complications, known as “maternal morbidities” twice as often as white women.
The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed nations, a shortage of maternity care providers, and is the only country that doesn’t guarantee access to home visits or paid parental leave. Every one of the top 11 developed countries—except the United States—guarantee postpartum home visits, typically one to three visits within the first week, and in some countries as many as 16 visits as needed until week 8. Showing that the care given after postpartum is equally as important as care given to mothers during their pregnancy term.
Black mothers are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, and more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, making it more dangerous to physically have a baby. But Black mothers are also endangered by institutionalized racism in hospitals and inherent biases in care. According to ProPublica, “Black women are 243 percent more likely than white women to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes, producing one of the largest racial disparities in women’s health.”
We need to fix our broken health care system and rid it of the unconscious bias and blatant discrimination that is causing such harm. As one doctor says in this article about how America is Failing Its Black Mothers, “The common thread is that when Black women expressed concern about their symptoms, clinicians were more delayed and seemed to believe them less.”
In 2018, tennis phenom Serena Williams made headlines after sharing the challenges she faced having her daughter, Olympia. Days after giving birth, Williams alerted a nurse to some concerning symptoms she was experiencing. She was met with disbelief and a costly delay in care, which resulted in several blood clots forming in her lungs.
We have work to do to correct this terrible imbalance. I’m gratified, though, to be able to share with you something that would have been unimaginable during the last administration—a White House proclamation declaring Black Maternal Health Week 2021. It’s essential that our leaders recognize this crisis.
Even better, here’s a link to the roundtable Vice President Harris led yesterday on how to address the Black maternal health care crisis. Let us continue to listen to these experiences, have these conversations and highlight the disparities that Black women face in maternal health.