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Many Black expectant mothers continue to suffer. Together we can make a difference.

The health of expecting mothers tells us a lot about our country’s overall health. And what we’re seeing is not good. Though maternal death rates have gone down in most of the world, they’ve gone up at least 50% in the United States since 1990. The COVID-19 pandemic made this trend worse.

Some mothers are much worse off, too. Black women die nearly three times more often than non-Hispanic white women, just one example of racial inequities in the country’s healthcare system.

But we have hope. As we learn to live with COVID-19, we can shine a light on many of the problems the pandemic exposed. Simple steps can go a long way in helping mothers go home with their babies.

This week is Black Maternal Health Week, a time to raise awareness and learn how to to advance Black maternal health rights and justice.

Let’s look at the numbers and what we can do to help.

A scary trend.

The latest nationwide maternal mortality rates available are from 2020. That year, we saw:

  • 861 women die of maternal causes, up from 754 deaths in 2019.
  • The maternal mortality rate grew to 23.8 per 100,000 live births. This is up from 20.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2019.

The rates are even worse for Black women. In 2020:

  • The maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women.

Black women are 3-5 times more likely to have a maternal death than white women in the United States and that trend extends to their babies as well. In Pierce County, Black babies under 1 year of age die at about double the rate of white babies.

We know these disparities come from the stress of implicit and explicit biases. Simply put, the stress of racism is killing Black mothers and their babies.

Impact of COVID-19.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in maternal death rates because of strained hospital systems.

Pregnant women are at an increased risk of severe complications and death from COVID-19. We also know nationally and here in Pierce County, BIPOC communities suffer from the virus more than whites.

These factors lead to additional hardships for Black people giving birth, like, lack of healthcare access and social support. This causes more stress before, during, and after birth.

Racism is a structural barrier to healthcare and causes patients to lack the care they deserve, or get misdiagnosed or poorly treated. Studies show women who experience racism and discrimination are more likely to have an infant born with low birth weight.

Here in Washington, we are already seeing some policy changes to fix this, including a Senate Bill allowing doulas to get Medicaid reimbursement for donor breastmilk. This helps improve health outcomes and reduce health issues.

We are working to help.

At the Health Department, healthy moms and healthy babies are one of our utmost priorities. That’s why we work with communities and agencies of churches, pastors, ministers, community groups and public health nurses as part of our Black Infant Health (BIH) program, which provides families with: 

  • Public health nurses for one-on-one home visits.
  • Community health workers to connect women to resources.
  • Health ministers to lend spiritual and emotional support, including:
    • Free or low-cost health insurance.
    • Doctor appointments.
    • Breastfeeding support.
    • Resources to quit smoking.
    • Food (WIC, SNAP-Ed).
    • Childbirth education and parenting classes.
    • Referral to a nutritionist.
    • Depression/anxiety resources.

We partnered with University of Washington, Tacoma and asked Black/African American mothers to share their birth stories. Learn about birth experiences of Pierce County Black/African American women.

Getting the word out about this program helps! Questions? Contact mchservices@tpchd.org.

Together we can do more.

Healthcare providers and their employees play a vital role. Building a more diverse workforce can go a long way in helping health disparities for BIPOC women and communities. Other things like management of chronic diseases, bias trainings and more doula contracts also help promote health equity.

You can also take steps to help those who struggle with food and financial insecurity. Donate to local food banks, diaper dispensaries and volunteer at organizations like, Eloise’s Cooking Pot Food Bank and Help Me Grow. They provide resources for women at risk.

Groups like Black Mamas Matter Alliance, who created Black Maternal Health Week 5 years ago, work to aid the chronic stress Black women face because of racism and socioeconomic disadvantages. Learn more about that effort and find more resources in our recent blog.

Finally, take the step to acknowledge racism. The more we recognize racism and health inequities, the more we can all take steps to forward equity.

We have a lot of work to do. But together we can help expectant mothers stay healthy.