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:

KPCC: Special Series: Black Infant Mortality

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.

ProPublica: Lost Mothers

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.

Additional stories:

KPCC: How racism may cause black mothers to suffer the death of their infants

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 New York Times: Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis

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)

WTOP: Dangers of childbirth: Being black can be hazardous to moms’ health

For high-risk mothers east of the Anacostia River, there are no options for delivering a baby close to home. (7/15/18)

TIME: I Was Pregnant and in Crisis. All the Doctors and Nurses Saw Was an Incompetent Black Woman

He glared at me and said that if I wasn’t quiet he would leave and I would not get any pain relief. (1/8/19)

U.S. News & World Report: AHA News: Why Are Black Women at Higher Risk of Dying From Pregnancy Complications?

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)

EurekAlert!: Stress in new mothers causes lasting health risks, depending on race, ethnicity, poverty

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)

Success Story

Capitol Public Radio: Black Infant Death Rates Down In Sacramento Following Massive Community Efforts

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 Bee: ‘Saving the lives of generations’: Death rate for black children drops 45% in Sacramento County

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)

Legislation

The Hill: Kamala Harris on mortality rates of black mothers: ‘We can solve’ this

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)

Los Angeles Times: Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have risen steadily. Sen. Kamala Harris has a plan to change that

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)

Now This News (VIDEO): Black Women Die from Pregnancy and Childbirth Complications At Alarming Rates

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)

NBC News: ‘An amazing first step’: Advocates hail Congress’s maternal mortality prevention bill

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)

The Sacramento Bee: Pregnancy can be life-threatening for black women. SB 464 can change the equation

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)

The Hill: Majority of the maternal death-rate is based on race, but we can fix it

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)

The Los Angeles Times: Kamala Harris and other Democrats point to racial gap in care of pregnant black women

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

Fortune: Serena Williams Almost Died After Giving Birth. Her Story Is Shared By Black Women Across America

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)

CNN: Serena Williams: What my life-threatening experience taught me about giving birth

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)

TIME: Beyonce Says She Had Toxemia During Her Pregnancy With Her Twins. Here’s What That Means

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)

Today: What is preeclampsia? Beyoncé opens up about pregnancy complication

“My health and my babies’ health were in danger,” the singer said, recalling her difficult pregnancy with twins. (8/7/18)

Doulas

The Washington Post: Black women are facing a childbirth mortality crisis. These doulas are trying to help.

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)

NowThis: Professional Doula Latham Thomas Is Fighting Maternal Mortality for Black Women

As a doula, Latham Thomas is fighting maternal mortality by educating and empowering doulas of all backgrounds. (2/26/18)

California

Pew: More U.S. Women Dying From Childbirth. How One State Bucks the Trend.

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)

NPR: To Keep Women From Dying In Childbirth, Look To California

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)




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