Black Maternal Health Week 2021

By Zsakeba Henderson, M.D., Senior Vice President and Deputy Medical Officer, Maternal & Child Health Impact

It’s Black Maternal Health Week, a time to take notice of health issues affecting Black mamas and a time to take action to improve care and save lives. The Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) founded and leads the Black Maternal Health Week campaign and 2021 marks the fourth year of this powerful week of awareness, activism, and community building. Activities during the week of April 11 to April 17 aim to deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the US, amplify community-driven policy, research, and care solutions, and to center the voices of Black birthing people, families, and stakeholders.  March of Dimes is committed to working alongside BMMA until every Black birthing person in the US has the rights, respect, and resources to thrive in every aspect of their lives, including their reproductive lives.

In the U.S., we are facing a maternal-child health crisis. For Black families, this crisis is worse. 

  • More Black women suffer from severe complications from labor and childbirth, also called severe maternal morbidity, than white women.
  • Black moms are dying from pregnancy-related complications at three to four times the rate of white women, and this disparity is even higher in some parts of the country.
  • Pregnancy-related deaths can occur throughout pregnancy and even after pregnancy, and more than half (about 60%) of them are preventable.

Why are Black women affected by these health disparities?

Disparities in pregnancy-related death rates may be affected by one or more factors such as health status before pregnancy, implicit biases or systemic factors within the health care system, or social determinants of health, including access to high-quality health care services.  Examples of social determinants that impact health include:

  • Availability of safe housing
  • Food insecurity
  • Neighborhood violence
  • Education level
  • Access to transportation

Although social determinants may play a role in these disparities, they don’t explain them totally.  For example, among women with a college education or higher, Black women are five times more likely to die during or after pregnancy than white women. For women who don’t have a high school diploma, the mortality rate for Black women is 1.6 times higher than for white women. The chronic stress of racism and social inequality is at the root of these social determinants of persistent racial disparities and poor outcomes.  There is also evidence that disparities exist in the quality of care that Black women receive.

In order to have a clearer understanding of why Black mothers are more affected by these poor outcomes, many states have formed committees to review the circumstances around maternal deaths and severe complications. These groups research and present the whole picture of what happened, and allow a deeper examination of the factors leading to death.  The information obtained from these reviews will inform recommendations for future actions to help improve the care and supports that mothers receive.    

Taking action

March of Dimes offers a number of programs that seek to promote health equity for moms and babies and reduce disparities.

We also have a robust federal and state advocacy agenda and network focused on systemic solutions to health inequity. We look at health inequity and racial disparities in our work at the federal, state, and local levels. Join our Advocacy Action Center to add your voice to the thousands of March of Dimes advocates calling for policies that promote the health of women, children and families.