The birth of a child is a wondrous occasion celebrated by all cultures and traditions. It also can be a stressful time, because of health complications during pregnancy and birth. And, for some, there is a disproportionate risk of death at the start of life for a child.
The maternal and infant mortality crisis African American mothers and their babies are suffering is, sadly, old news for many families who have lost a loved one. For her powerful investigative series “Black Infant Mortality,” KPCC Early Childhood Reporter Priska Neely uncovered a document from a 1984 federal oversight hearing highlighting the health disparity between African American women in childbirth and other races. Only recently has the news media given greater attention to this crisis, spurring awareness and actions by lawmakers and health professionals.
The nation overall is suffering a maternal health crisis — the U.S. currently has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world — but African American women suffer the most. In 2017, the investigative journalism outlet ProPublica, in partnership with NPR, launched “Lost Mothers,” a series digging deep into all aspects of the crisis, including the disproportionate impact on African American women. “Lost Mothers” led in part to the passage of the federal Preventing Maternal Deaths Act in December 2018, which will allow states to more closely track maternal death rates.
Happening concurrently with the “Lost Mothers” and “Black Infant Mortality” series were two high-profile birth complication stories that illustrated the statistics. During her birth experience, tennis star Serena Williams suffered a pulmonary embolism and almost died. Soon thereafter, Beyoncé shared her birth story, where she described suffering from preeclampsia and having a C-section.
Reporting on both stories helped lift up awareness of the disparity, and also served to uncouple a false belief that income and health-care access were somehow a reason for why African American women suffer higher rates of mortality.
Meanwhile, as maternal mortality was being discussed nationwide, the appointment of Dr. Barbara Ferrer as head of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) brought a new contour to the crisis — identifying, declaring and acting on racism as its root cause.
Drawing on a growing body of research, LADPH committed to combating the impact of racism on pregnant women’s bodies through a multi-prong approach including: reduction in black women’s exposure to stress through innovative programming; services designed to enhance support for black women that ameliorate the cumulative effects of stress on health; and health interventions to identify, treat and, where possible, reverse morbidity due to socially mediated stress.
Similarly, at the state level, Sen. Holly Mitchell introduced SB464 in March, a bill aimed at combating the problem by implementing anti-bias statewide.
It’s also important to note that, while news outlets have lifted up California’s practices as an example of what to do right to combat the maternal mortality crisis, for black women the statistics remain grim.
In the piece “More U.S. Women Dying From Childbirth. How One State Bucks the Trend,” Pew Trusts highlight The California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative and the strides they have made to reduce maternal mortality in the state, but conclude, “while the maternal mortality rate has declined overall in California across all demographic groups, African-American women still are three to four times more likely to die from complications from pregnancy than are white women.”
To combat the African American infant and maternal mortality crisis in Los Angeles County, First 5 LA has partnered with LADPH and the Pritzker Foundation to support a Fellow who is leading the integration of the county’s work and additional efforts. Melissa Franklin of Growth Mindset Communications is leading a countywide steering committee that recently launched the website blackinfantsandfamilies.org.
To assist you, our readers, in learning more about this topic we have compiled a library of article links below that are organized by topic area. We hope you find this comprehensive list of news coverage and reports helpful in taking action on behalf of African American infants and mothers.
Series Covering the Crisis:
Poverty, education, prenatal behavior and access to health care all contribute to the issue, but none of those factors explain the gap in birth outcomes that has persisted for decades.
- Black Babies Die At Twice The Rate Of White Babies. My Family Is Part Of This Statistic (6/21/18)
- After losing her son, this LA mom's mission is saving black babies (6/22/18)
- America's Black Babies Are Paying For Society's Ills. What Will We Do To Fix It? (6/28/19)
- Keeping Black Babies Alive Is A Priority For LA's Top Health Officials (6/28/19)
- These People Have Dedicated Their Lives To Keeping Black Babies Alive (7/6/18)
- What's behind the high black infant mortality rates? Racism, not race (7/11/18)
- Saving black babies by saving a whole neighborhood (7/12/18)
- Empowering moms – and dads – in the black infant mortality crisis (7/13/18)
- What Pregnant Black Women Need To Know To Have A 'Safe And Sacred Birth' (1/31/19)
- VIDEO: Racism and reproduction — what black women need to know (1/24/19)
- KPCC: Checking in on L.A. County's plan to shrink the infant mortality gap (4/10/19)
The U.S. has the highest rate of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world. Half of the deaths are preventable, victimizing women from a variety of races, backgrounds, educations and income levels.
- Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth (12/7/17)
- Black Women Disproportionately Suffer Complications of Pregnancy and Childbirth. Let’s Talk About It. (12/8/17)
- How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers (12/27/17)
- U.S. Senate Committee Proposes $50 Million to Prevent Mothers Dying in Childbirth (06/28/18)
What is different about growing up black in America is discrimination, says David. “It’s hard to find any aspect of life that’s not impacted by racial discrimination,” he says. (12/20/17)
The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America. (4/11/18)
For high-risk mothers east of the Anacostia River, there are no options for delivering a baby close to home. (7/15/18)
Serena Williams and Beyoncé are at the top of their professions. Williams is one of the best tennis players, and arguably athletes, of all time. Beyoncé is a singer who sells out arenas within hours. (2/20/19)
African American women undergo more physical “wear and tear” during the first year after giving birth than Latina and white women, a consequence that may have long-lasting health effects, according to a study of a diverse group of more than 2,400 low-income women. (2/14/19)
Government and community leaders have described lowering Sacramento’s African American child death rates as “moving a mountain.” Seven years after identifying the problem, they’re celebrating a step in the right direction. (2/3/19)
Sacramento County had a 45-percent drop in black infant deaths between 2013 and 2016, including an 18-percent decrease in black babies born preterm and a 54 percent decrease in black infants dying from sleep-related incidents, according to the most recent county data. (2/4/19)
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said that society needs to do more to curb the increasing rates of mortality among black mothers. (12/12/18)
Sen. Kamala Harris says she wants to force the medical community to address an uncomfortable reality: Black women in the United States are three to four times more likely than white women to die immediately before or after childbirth. (8/22/18)
Charles Johnson IV’s wife died while in postnatal care despite his plea for medical help. Black women are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications than white women, and Johnson’s words help call attention to this serious problem. (11/28/18)
Congress unanimously passed a bill that authorizes $60 million over the next five years to prevent maternal mortality in America. The money will fund maternal health review committees in all 50 states, enabling them to collect data on what is killing women during or after childbirth. (12/19/18)
Black History Month has come and gone. It is a month that reminds us of the resilience, fortitude and strength black Americans have exhibited to stay alive and thrive in this country. (3/10/19)
It is no secret that the Trump Administration and the president seemingly have problems with two key constituencies: women and people of color. (3/14/19)
There are humanitarian reasons for the surging interest in a long-standing problem. But there are also political considerations. (4/11/19)
Serena Williams and Beyoncé
Such a scrape with death makes for a sensational story when it features an icon, but it’s also the story of millions of women of color across the nation, as ProPublica explores in a searing investigative series on the effect socioeconomics has on motherhood in America. (1/12/18)
It began with a pulmonary embolism, which is a condition in which one or more arteries in the lungs becomes blocked by a blood clot. (2/20/18)
Beyoncé revealed that she experienced toxemia, also known as preeclampsia, while she was pregnant with her twins, Sir and Rumi. The condition left her swollen and put her on bed rest for more than a month. (8/6/18)
“My health and my babies’ health were in danger,” the singer said, recalling her difficult pregnancy with twins. (8/7/18)
Doulas have been part of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum recovery for women of all backgrounds, but specifically women of color, for centuries. (2/28/18)
As a doula, Latham Thomas is fighting maternal mortality by educating and empowering doulas of all backgrounds. (2/26/18)
While the maternal mortality rate has declined overall in California across all demographic groups, African American woman still are three to four times more likely to die from complications from pregnancy than are white women. (10/23/18)
Cayti Kane had been diagnosed with placenta accreta, a condition that increased the likelihood of a dangerous hemorrhage during delivery. When that happened, she had an emergency hysterectomy. Kane and her son went home healthy. (7/29/18)