Health & Wellness

Black Maternal Health Disparities: Understanding and Resources

Apr. 25, 2024

Discover the root causes of Black maternal health disparities and the impactful programs striving for equity in maternal care.

To schedule an appointment with an OBGYN provider at UC Health, learn more here.

Introduction: The Crisis of Black Maternal Health Disparities

Maternal health disparities faced by Black women are a devastating reality that highlights the ongoing crisis of racial and health inequities in our society. Despite significant advances in medical technology and healthcare, Black women, continue to experience significantly worse maternal health outcomes compared to women of other races. These outcomes include higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, lack of access to adequate prenatal and postpartum care, and a broad range of other health disparities.

This article aims to provide insight into the scope of the problem, examining the underlying causes of these disparities and highlighting the efforts to address these critical issues, with a focus on ensuring health equity and improving care for Black mothers. By understanding the magnitude of these disparities, we can take collective action to create a future where all mothers have access to the quality care they need, regardless of their skin color or social status.

Understanding Black Maternal Health Disparities

The Scope of the Problem 

Maternal mortality and morbidity rates are important indicators of the health of a community, and when we examine these rates among Black women, the extent of the healthcare disparities becomes painfully apparent. Black women in the United States face a maternal mortality rate that is two to three times higher than that of white women. This means that Black women are two to three times more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts.

These disparities are not limited to maternal mortality rates alone. Black women also experience higher rates of maternal morbidity, which refers to pregnancy-related complications that result in significant short- or long-term impacts on the mother's health. These complications can include severe bleeding, infections, and other life-threatening conditions. The reasons for these disparities are complex and multifaceted, but they are rooted in the persistent inequities in access to quality healthcare that disproportionately affect Black women.

The consequences of these disparities are devastating. Black mothers are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, which can put them at greater risk for pregnancy-related complications. These complications can impact not only the mother's health, but also that of her infant, who may be born prematurely, with low birth weight, or with other health problems. This perpetuates a cycle of poor health outcomes for Black mothers and their infants, which has far-reaching implications for the health of the entire community.

Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Rates

A study conducted by Hoyert DL and published in NCHS Health E-Stats has revealed some alarming statistics related to maternal mortality rates in the United States. According to the report, the number of deaths during childbirth has increased for all ethnic groups in the US, including Black, White, and Hispanic women, between 2020 and 2021. 

The study indicates that in 2021, about 70 Black women died for every 100,000 babies that were born, which is 2.6 times higher than the rate for White women. This information highlights a significant risk that Black women face in the US during childbirth, which is a cause for concern. The report titled "Maternal mortality rates in the United States, 2021" provides insights into the issue of maternal mortality and its impact on the US healthcare system. The study can be accessed via the following link:

Key Factors Contributing to Disparities

There are several key factors contributing to the disparities in maternal health outcomes for Black women. However, two primary factors stand out as major drivers of these disparities: the lack of access to quality healthcare and the higher prevalence of underlying health conditions among Black women. The first factor, the lack of access to quality healthcare, is a multifaceted issue that is not limited to geographical availability. In addition to the geographic barriers, there are financial barriers that disproportionately affect Black communities, making it more difficult for them to access quality healthcare services. This lack of access to quality healthcare services can lead to a delay in diagnosis, inadequate treatment, and poor health outcomes for Black women. 

The second factor, the higher prevalence of underlying health conditions among Black women, is also a significant factor contributing to the disparities in maternal health outcomes. According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Black women currently make up about 7.0% of the U.S. population and 13.6% of all U.S. women. Although Black women are, on average, younger, they have a higher incidence of many health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes, maternal morbidities, obesity, and stress. Conditions like hypertension and diabetes are significant risk factors for complications during pregnancy and childbirth, which can lead to severe health outcomes, including maternal mortality. Unfortunately, maternal mortality is disproportionately high among Black women.

Addressing the disparities in maternal health outcomes for Black women requires addressing both the lack of access to quality healthcare and the higher prevalence of underlying health conditions among Black women. This can be achieved by increasing access to quality healthcare services, providing targeted interventions to address underlying health conditions, and implementing policies that reduce racial disparity in the healthcare system.

Focus Areas in Black Maternal Health

Pregnancy and Preterm Birth Rates

Preterm birth rates pose a significant challenge in maternal health, particularly for Black women. This community is more likely to experience preterm births compared to white women. This discrepancy highlights existing health disparities and poses serious risks to both maternal and infant health. Preterm birth is defined as giving birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, which can lead to various health complications and developmental issues. It is associated with several complications, including higher rates of infant mortality and long-term developmental issues in children.

Recent statistics shared by the March of Dimes revealed that between 2020 and 2022, preterm birth rates in the United States varied among different ethnic groups. Black infants had the highest preterm birth rates at 14.6%, followed by American Indian/Alaska Natives at 12.2%, Hispanics at 10.0%, Whites at 9.4%, and Asian/Pacific Islanders at 9.2%.

The implications of these higher preterm birth rates are profound, extending beyond immediate health concerns to encompass broader issues of healthcare quality and access. The increased risk of preterm birth among Black women underscores the need for targeted health interventions and support that address the specific needs and challenges faced by this group. This will ensure that they receive the necessary care and monitoring throughout their pregnancy.

Mental Health Challenges

Support for the mental health of expectant and new mothers is a crucial component of comprehensive maternal care. However, Black women often encounter significant barriers in accessing these services, which can have severe consequences for their health and well-being. The intersection of pregnancy, motherhood, and mental health is complex, and Black women are at a higher risk of developing conditions such as postpartum depression and anxiety due to multiple factors. 

First, Black women face a higher level of stigma and shame surrounding mental health issues, which can make it difficult for them to seek help. Second, there is a shortage of culturally competent mental health providers who understand and can address the unique needs and experiences of Black women. Third, systemic inequalities in the healthcare system can lead to inadequate care and negative experiences for Black women seeking mental health support. 

It is important to address the mental well-being of expectant and new Black mothers. Providing Black women with access to mental health care that is respectful, culturally sensitive, and easily accessible can help address these disparities. This involves creating supportive environments where Black mothers feel valued and heard, and where their mental health needs are treated as a priority within the broader context of maternal health care.

Highlighting the Efforts to Address Disparities

Black Maternal Health Week and Other Initiatives

Black Maternal Health Week is an important time to raise awareness and take action to address the health disparities that Black women face in maternal care. The Black Mamas Matter Alliance founded this initiative to provide a platform for advocating for systemic changes and celebrating the strength and resilience of Black mothers. During this week, organizations, healthcare professionals, and activists come together to highlight the challenges and work towards solutions that aim to improve health outcomes for Black women.

The Black Maternal Health Caucus, along with other advocacy groups, plays a significant role in policy-making and advocacy efforts. They work to bring attention to the disparities and push for legislation that prioritizes the health and well-being of Black mothers. Their efforts are essential in driving change and ensuring that maternal health equity is a recognized and acted-upon priority in the public health agenda.

Public Health and Community-Based Solutions

On the frontlines of addressing maternal health disparities are public health interventions and community-based programs, like the Healthy Start Initiative by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), designed to meet the specific needs of Black women. These solutions often focus on improving access to quality healthcare, providing education and support for pregnant women, and ensuring comprehensive care throughout the pregnancy and postpartum period.

Mama Certified, a partnership with Cradle Cincinnati, The Health Collaborative, QueensVillage, and local Black mothers, provides Black parents-to-be with a meaningful way to assess and understand the maternal-related initiatives of Hamilton County’s hospital networks. This innovative certification program further encourages and advocates for increased hospital efforts to ensure that Black birthing people and their babies receive respectful care.

UC Health was recently awarded Leader badges in maternal and infant care by Mama Certified for our progress in creating inclusive and equitable experiences for Black birthing people and babies. Initiatives include enhancing access to early prenatal visits, offering virtual prenatal and postpartum appointments for low-risk mothers through Babyscripts, and expanding access to breastmilk for neonatal intensive care unit infants.

Community support systems play a vital role in improving maternal health outcomes. By creating networks of care that include doulas, midwives, mental health services and community health workers who understand the unique experiences of Black mothers, these programs help bridge the gap in healthcare services. Additionally, maternal mortality review committees are instrumental in analyzing cases of maternal death and severe morbidity to identify preventable factors and recommend system-wide changes.

Through these collective efforts, significant strides are being made towards reducing maternal health disparities and fostering an environment where Black women can experience safe and respectful maternity care.

Resource Guide for Expectant Mothers

Prenatal Care Resources

Prenatal care is of utmost importance for expectant mothers, especially for Black women who experience disparities in maternal health.

Regular prenatal check-ups are essential for monitoring the health and development of both the mother and the baby, managing any underlying health conditions, and providing timely interventions when necessary. These check-ups can also identify potential risks or complications early on, which can help prevent serious health problems or even save lives.

However, access to prenatal care can be a challenge for many Black women due to various factors such as socioeconomic status, location, and more. This is why finding resources and programs dedicated to improving access to prenatal care is crucial. Thankfully, there are numerous organizations and initiatives that work towards this goal, such as local health departments, nonprofit organizations, and specialized programs.

These organizations and programs provide a wide range of services to meet the diverse needs of Black expectant mothers. They offer prenatal screenings, ultrasounds, blood tests, and other medical tests to ensure the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby. They also provide educational workshops on pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant care to help women make informed decisions about their health and the health of their baby.

In addition, some organizations offer support services such as transportation to and from appointments, childcare during appointments, and assistance with insurance and financial resources. This support can be especially helpful for women who may face barriers to accessing care due to a lack of transportation, childcare, or financial resources.

At UC Health, we provide several resources for expecting and new mothers:

  • In-person and virtual childbirth education classes. Our virtual childbirth classes are no-cost and cover topics like what to expect, infant feeding, and more. View the upcoming class schedule here.
  • Free breastfeeding support in Clifton and West Chester at our Baby Café support groups.
  • Take-home blood pressure cuffs for patients who need them after delivery.
  • Post-discharge appointments for mothers and infants who need timely follow-up, especially those at high risk for complications, including high bilirubin levels and high blood pressure.

To learn more about UC Health’s resources or to schedule an appointment with an OBGYN provider, visit our Women’s Health web section.

Mental Health Support Networks

Maternal mental health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being for women, and it is especially important for Black women to have access to culturally competent mental health support. The stresses associated with pregnancy, such as physical changes and hormonal imbalances, can significantly impact mental well-being. In addition, Black women may face unique societal factors and potential experiences of discrimination that can further exacerbate these stresses.

Recognizing the need for support, various resources are available to help Black mothers navigate these challenges. Online forums, local support groups, and professional counseling services that specialize in maternal mental health offer safe spaces for Black mothers to share their experiences, receive emotional support, and access expert advice tailored to their specific needs.

These resources offer a range of benefits. For example, online forums provide a platform for Black mothers to connect with others who have similar experiences and share advice on how to cope with challenges. Local support groups offer a sense of community and the opportunity to connect with others in person.

Professional counseling services are particularly helpful for those who need more personalized and targeted support, such as those experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety. Dr. Emily Minarchek is accepting new patients at UC Health and sees women who are seeking services around concerns of pregnancy, postpartum, perinatal loss, and infertility. Patients can self-refer by calling 513-585-7700 and asking for her by name.

Advocating for Your Health: Navigating the Healthcare System

Empowering Black women to advocate for themselves within the healthcare system is crucial in overcoming disparities. This involves educating them on their rights as patients, effective communication strategies with healthcare providers, and ways to seek recourse in cases of discrimination or inadequate care.

Resources for legal and advocacy support are available to help Black mothers navigate these challenges and ensure their voices are heard. These include patient advocacy organizations, legal aid services specializing in medical rights, and community-based programs that offer guidance on engaging with healthcare providers to secure the best possible care.


Maternal health is an essential aspect of public health, and the disparities faced by Black women in this regard are a serious concern that requires our attention. As we reflect on this issue, it is important to recognize that we all have a collective responsibility to advocate for and support health equity.

Providing encouragement for expectant mothers, particularly those from Black communities, to utilize available resources can have a positive impact on this journey toward effecting change. These resources may include prenatal care, nutrition education, and access to mental health services. It is essential to ensure that every expectant mother, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, has access to these vital resources to promote a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

The journey to reducing and eventually eliminating Black maternal health disparities is an ongoing process that requires the concerted efforts of individuals, communities, and institutions. It is not enough to simply acknowledge the existence of these disparities; we must take action to address them. By staying informed, advocating for necessary changes, and supporting one another, we can move closer to a world where every mother has the chance to experience a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth.

To achieve this goal, we must work towards creating a healthcare system that is equitable, just, and accessible to all. By working together, we can create a world where every mother, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, can experience a healthy and safe pregnancy and childbirth, and where every child has the opportunity to thrive.