The Maternal Mortality Crisis in the United States
Black and Hispanic women are carrying the unfortunate burden
The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. This is despite having access to advanced medical interventions and spending at least twice as much money (per person) compared to other high-income countries. For Black and Hispanic women, the maternal death rates are higher than their white counterparts. These disparities only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2020-2021, rates rose by 26% for Black women and 54% for Hispanic women. This means that for every 100,000 births, almost 70 Black women died and almost 27 Hispanic women died. What’s even more alarming is that over 60% of these deaths are preventable. The World Health Organization defines maternal death as a death of a woman during pregnancy or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.
The maternal mortality rate for BIPOC women in the United States is 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 19.1 deaths for white Women.
Factors Contributing to higher rates of maternal mortality among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Women
Did you know that BIPOC women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy compared to their white counterparts? These disparities experienced by BIPOC women are made worse by systematic failures in our communities and health systems to protect and nurture BIPOC women during their birthing journey. These disparities are fueled by the social determinants of health–these are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, play, and age.
Other factors like racism, classism, gender oppression, and discrimination also contribute to the root causes of these unequal health outcomes. All of which have led some BIPOC women to mistrust the medical system and healthcare providers. This mistrust has been detrimental and often leaves mothers receiving late or inadequate prenatal care which can increase their risk of maternal death or other complications. It is important that expectant mothers receive timely access to quality, culturally competent prenatal care to reduce the risk of both maternal and infant death.
How can we lessen the impact of maternal deaths of BIPOC women?
We can all do our part to reduce maternal mortality among BIPOC mothers. It is important to remember that maternal deaths are mostly preventable. While addressing the systemic barriers that prevent access to care has the benefit of decreasing the number of women who die, public health practitioners and healthcare providers must take an active role to address this crisis. Some strategies to address this crisis are listed below.
The majority of maternal deaths are preventable.
Education: Providing public health education is key in increasing a mother’s awareness of the signs and symptoms of common pregnancy complications. Education can come in the form of health education materials like brochures or fact sheets, social media campaigns, or local trainings and/or support groups.