Black Women’s Maternal Health: Why It Matters

Most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable

A pregnant African-American woman raising awareness about Black Maternal Health Week in April

Most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable

Pregnancy deaths are rare in the United States, but far too many women still die each year from problems related to pregnancy or delivery complications. The numbers have gone up in recent years, especially among Black women. Multiple factors contribute to these disparities, including access to good health care.

 Black women were 2.6 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women in 2021. The maternal mortality rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 26.6 for White women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These disparities are worrying because more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided.

What are health risk factors?

Black women have a higher chance of dying during childbirth due to their increased risk of health problems during pregnancy.

“Black women are more likely to have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease when they become pregnant than White women,” says Ronald Salzetti, MD, an OB-GYN at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Clinic Rancho San Diego. “Both of these conditions can raise the risk of dangerous pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, a severe rise in blood pressure that can lead to life-threatening seizures.”


Black women also have a higher risk for gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can increase the likelihood of high blood pressure or preeclampsia.

Postpartum care

Disparities exist after pregnancy as well. Black women have a higher risk of excessive bleeding after childbirth. A medical emergency known as postpartum hemorrhage can lead to potentially life-threatening blood loss.

Postpartum depression affects about 10 to 20% of women who have given birth. Fewer Black women, only 4%, seek help for postpartum depression compared to White women at 8%. Overall, the percentage of women seeking help is low.

Root causes

Various factors contribute to these health disparities, such as differences in quality of health care, pre-existing chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit bias, according to the CDC. Studies show the pandemic worsened racial disparities in maternal health.

Improving maternal health

Growing awareness of the maternal health crisis has led to increased efforts to address them.

In 2018, Congress passed a law that provides funding to states to support maternal mortality review committees. These committees, which include representatives from public health, obstetrics and gynecology, maternal-fetal medicine and community-based groups, convene at the state and local level to review pregnancy-related deaths and identify prevention opportunities.

The CDC’s Hear Her campaign is another resource that helps prevent pregnancy-related deaths by sharing life-saving tips and urgent warnings to raise awareness.


Community organizations also play a significant role supporting Black women before and after pregnancy, raising awareness, providing resources and advocating for policy changes.

Reducing the risk

Pregnant women of all races and ethnicities can lower their chances of complications by learning about warning signs and risk factors and working closely with their health care providers to ensure safe pregnancies and deliveries.

Follow these tips to help prevent pregnancy complications:

Make all your appointments and speak up

Attend all your prenatal appointments and screening exams. Speak up and raise any concerns.


“It’s especially important for women to speak up if they have a concern or problem, and keep speaking up until you have an answer,” says Dr. Salzetti. “You know your body better than anyone else, and you deserve the best possible care.”

Don’t delay care

If something doesn’t feel right at any point in your pregnancy, call your health care provider. Don’t write it off or wait until your next appointment.

Know the warning signs

Know the warning signs that may indicate a potentially life-threatening complication. Seek immediate care if you experience:


  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Extreme swelling of hands or face
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or fast beating heart
  • Thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
  • Baby’s movement stopping or slowing during pregnancy
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Vision changes
  • Fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
  • Severe pain in your belly
  • Severe swelling, redness or pain in your leg or arm
  • Overwhelming tiredness

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