This piece reflects the opinions of the author.
Black women who give birth in the U.S. are three times more likely to die during delivery than white women and more than twice as likely to have birth complications. Most of these deaths are preventable. Outcome disparities persist regardless of socioeconomic background or education level.
In 2019, the maternal mortality was 44 per 100,000 births for Black individuals compared to only 18 per 100,000 births for white individuals. Our factsheet on maternal health provides additional information on the status of and challenges to addressing disparities in Black maternal health and infant mortality.
However, with the support of allies and advocates, robust research and policy initiatives can help eradicate these disparities. Here’s how to help:
Support Funding for Research
According to a public opinion survey commissioned by Research!America in January 2021, 86% of Americans believe it’s important to conduct research to understand and eliminate health disparities. Universities and medical schools are examining Black maternal health with increasing frequency to create strategies and systematic solutions to end this health crisis. In FY20, more than 125 federal grants were awarded to focus on Black maternal health. Continuing to fund research and community efforts actively working to save Black lives must remain a priority.
Independent research groups, labs and collaboratives exist with the sole purpose of ending Black maternal health disparities. For example, the Maternal Outcomes for Translational Health Equity Research Lab (M.OT.H.E.R. Lab), where I volunteer, was founded by someone from the community it hopes to serve. Groups like this are incredibly vital because they are able to conduct research on Black maternal health, advocate for Black birthing people, and engage within the community via events and conferences. Consider checking out these organizations and joining their advocacy efforts and events to encourage robust funding for research. Community-based organizations like Black Mamas Matter Alliance are leading critical initiatives and advocating for critical research funding; look for local events in your area.
The Black Maternal Health Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, building on similar legislation introduced last year. This “Momnibus” is a series of 12 bills focused on saving lives and reducing racial and ethnic disparities. (Read information on each bill).
Stay informed about Momnibus updates by following the Black Maternal Health Caucus on Twitter at @BMHCaucus. You can also contact your elected officials at federal, state and local levels to make your voice heard about why maternal health matters to you. Check out our resources on how to be an effective advocate.
Spread the Word
Greater awareness of Black maternal health disparities can help reduce disparities; naming the problem is the first step in creating solutions. It is important to educate ourselves and our communities about maternal mortality in the U.S. and the factors that have contributed to this crisis such as the intersection of structural racism with maternity care and health systems in the U.S. The Aspen Health Strategy Group recently released a valuable resource, the “Reversing the U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis Report,” discussing the root causes of the maternal mortality crisis and providing ideas to tackle the problem. Ensuring we are reading and sharing accurate, timely information will allow for more compelling, meaningful discourse.
Armed with this information, we can take to social media to spread the word. The Black Maternal Health Caucus has developed a digital media toolkit with sample posts and shareable graphics. Research!America has additional resources focused on helping students to be effective advocates on Capitol Hill and on social media, but you certainly don’t have to be a student to take advantage of the strategies shared.
Every mother matters
Addressing maternal health disparities isn’t just about making health outcomes more equal, it’s about making sure every mother has the best possible outcome. Zoomed in close enough, the big picture always comes down to personal stories and shared experiences. If we boldly act in unison, we can end the causes of maternal health disparities in the U.S. and create a better, safer nation for all.
Leah Franklin is a former science policy intern at Research!America.