How to Combat the Public Health Crisis of Black Maternal Mortality

September 19, 2023

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to save their mothers’ lives.

// By Wendy Margolin //

wendy-margolin-headshotThe U.S. is the only high-resource country in the world with a rising maternal mortality rate. As shameful as that is, it gets worse. One group of women — Black women — are 2.6 times more likely to die from pregnancy than White women, according to CDC. In a 2017 study, Black women were five times more likely to die from postpartum cardiomyopathy, preeclampsia, and eclampsia than white women.

Olympic track medalist Tori Bowie died of eclampsia during childbirth at age 32. Her death on May 2 occurred alone in her home during labor. The cause of her death was announced to the media in mid-June.

Take a moment to sit with this. A family focused on building was instead burying. Every maternal death is tragic. That 80 percent of these deaths are preventable compounds the horror.

Bowie made headlines because she’s a decorated athlete. But the truth is that she’s no different from the Black women who die from maternal mortality every year in the U.S.

Last month we looked at opportunities for addressing health disparities that affect women overall. In this issue, we focus on Black maternal health, and how individuals, communities, health care organizations, and policymakers are igniting a national movement in support of reproductive justice.

Race a Factor Regardless of Income

A new Black mother is at a higher risk of maternal mortality than her white counterparts, no matter her income level. A study published in January 2023 shows that in California, the wealthiest Black mothers are twice as likely to die from childbirth as the wealthiest white mothers.

There’s a Twitter hashtag #pregnantwhileblack and a newly released book by board-certified OB/GYN Monique Rainford of the same name. A summary of the book on Amazon states, “Despite medical advances over the last twenty years, for Black women, the overwhelming dangers of carrying and delivering children remain and it only seems to be getting worse.”

Celebrities as Storytellers

Bowie’s Olympic teammate Allyson Felix was also diagnosed with preeclampsia. She spoke out after news spread of Bowie’s cause of death in an article in Time:

“Like so many Black women, I was unaware of the risks I faced while pregnant…About five days before I gave birth to Camryn, I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I mentioned that my feet were swollen. As we went around the table, the women shared their experiences during pregnancy. My cousin said she also had swollen feet. My mom didn’t. Not once did someone say, ‘Oh, well, that’s one of the indicators of preeclampsia.’ None of us knew. When I became pregnant, my doctor didn’t sit me down and tell me, ‘These are things that you should look for in your pregnancy because you are at a greater risk to experience these complications.’”

Felix is featured in this public service announcement produced by the CDC for its “Hear Her” campaign. The purpose of the campaign is “to prevent pregnancy-related deaths by sharing potentially life-saving messages about urgent warning signs.” Watch the PSA here:


Telling stories like Bowie’s and Felix’s in health care patient education content helps raise awareness. Four in five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable, according to the CDC. Awareness leads to more funding, more research, and more action.

What We Can Do to Raise Awareness About Black Maternal Mortality

Community Members

Check on family, friends, and co-workers who are pregnant, especially those who are Black. Educate yourself and others about Black maternal mortality and share content that does this well. Consider watching Aftershock, a powerful new documentary on Black maternal death, available on Hulu.

Watch the Aftershock trailer here:


Health Care Content Marketers

Give the research and stories about Black women’s health more time and more space. The more donors and organizations know about research and innovation in minority health, the more likely these initiatives will get funded. Investing in health research is what leads to more positive outcomes.

In your general health education content, it’s important to identify areas of health disparities for minority communities. Highlight health education topics that affect Black women more commonly and explain variations.

Distribute content where Black women are most likely to see or hear it. Adapt it for Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or in print to pass out at community festivals and gatherings.

Black Maternal Health Week is recognized each year from April 11-17. It was founded and is led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance​ to “build awareness, activism, and community-building​ to amplify ​the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black Mamas and birthing people.”

Coinciding with the 2023 event, a powerful awareness campaign, “My Last Lullabye,” launched. Creative agency TANK Worldwide collaborated with Dr. Shalon’s Maternal Action Project and PRB to produce the campaign, which used AI to re-create the voice of Dr. Shalon Irving, an epidemiologist at the CDC who died in 2017 due to pregnancy-related complications three weeks after she gave birth to her daughter Soleil. In this video, we hear Dr. Irving singing a “lullabye” to her daughter.

Provider Organizations

Most health systems have launched broad DEI initiatives, many created in response to events in 2020 (disparities revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd’s murder). Several health systems have taken the lead in bringing attention to Black maternal health.

  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health produced a three-part podcast series “How Can We Solve the Black Maternal Health Crisis?” that brought together many of the movement’s leaders and provides a list of resources.
  • Cedars-Sinai’s DEI division provides grants to Los Angeles County organizations seeking to improve Black maternal health. Cedars-Sinai distributed nearly $2.2 million in 2022.
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Birth Equity Initiative (BEI) seeks “to improve birth outcomes by helping women achieve good health before, during, and between pregnancies.”
  • The Association of Black Cardiologists launched an education and awareness campaign We Are the Faces of Black Maternal Health “to help amplify and promote the importance of heart health before, during, and after pregnancy.”

Government and Policymakers

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Black Maternal Health Caucus “is organized around the goals of elevating the Black maternal health crisis within Congress and advancing policy solutions to improve maternal health outcomes and end disparities.” This group presented the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which includes 13 individual bills, each of which was presented separately.

In the words of Dr. Neil Shah, chief medical officer of Maven Clinic, who was interviewed for the Johns Hopkins podcast series, the world’s largest digital clinic for women’s and family health, “Maternal health is really a bellwether for the health of the whole society. So, if moms are unwell, society is unwell. And that’s why every injustice in society shows up in maternal health.”

As owner of Sparkr Marketing, Wendy Margolin helps busy health care marketing communications teams create more content. She’s on a mission to build a better medical web, one article at a time. Her favorite form of content is hospital brand journalism, which ties together her 20-year career in journalism, marketing, and health care.