Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Unprecedented Policy Blueprint Outlines a Comprehensive Agenda to Address Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality
Press Release

RELEASE: Unprecedented Policy Blueprint Outlines a Comprehensive Agenda to Address Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that analyzes the racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality and provides a comprehensive policy framework to address these disparities. The report comes on the heels of increased attention to the issue in Congress and in the states. Key findings from the report include:

  • Compared to non-Hispanic white women, African American women are dying from preventable pregnancy-related complications at three to four times the rate. Comparatively, black infants are twice as likely to die.
  • Higher rates of preterm-related causes of death account for more than half of the racial disparity in infant mortality between African American and non-Hispanic white women.
  • Black women are more likely to undergo C-sections at a rate 4 percent higher than the U.S. overall, which results in a higher risk for death and complications for infants and mothers, compared to vaginal deliveries.
  • Women of color are underserved by mental health professionals with black women half as likely to receive treatment and counseling as white women.
  • The United States has not published an official maternal mortality rate since 2007.

Policy strategies outlined in the paper include:

  • Improving access to critical services by strengthening existing health programs and support reproductive health care; screening and treating women at risk for preterm birth; eliminating maternity care deserts; and offering African American women tools to navigate the health care system.
  • Improving the quality of care provided to pregnant women by training providers to address racism and build a more diverse health care workforce; creating standardized assessments for mothers and infants; and adopting new models of care and linking payment to quality.
  • Addressing maternal and infant mental health by identifying barriers to accessing maternal mental health services; dismantling care barriers with a comprehensive approach; and screening for and addressing infant and early childhood mental health issues.
  • Ensuring support for families before and after birth by investing in and expanding access to policies and programs that support families’ basic needs; investing in community programs that offer one-stop comprehensive services; simplifying enrollment across public benefit programs; investing in home visiting; and funding community-based education and communications initiatives to support families.
  • Improving data collection and oversight by standardizing birth and death certificate data; mandating and funding fetal and infant mortality review committees; and ensuring equity in the review process.

“For too long, many have sought to fault racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality on education, income, physical health, or other social factors, despite research showing racism as the root cause of this crisis,” said Jamila Taylor, a senior fellow and the director of Women’s Health and Rights at the Center for American Progress and lead author of the report. “This paper provides policymakers with holistic solutions to confront the structural racism driving these disparities by prioritizing a diverse and compassionate workforce trained in cultural humility; ensuring access to comprehensive and affordable high-quality health care; dismantling barriers to mental health services; and expanding doula and midwifery care to women at greatest risk of poor maternal and infant health outcomes.”

“Racism contributes to too many babies’ deaths and is forcing too many black babies to grow up without a mother, which has significant negative consequences for child development,” said author Cristina Novoa, a senior policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Black women and their children deserve a society that respects and supports them. Beyond changing the health care system, this means rethinking how we support families, especially when they bring home a new baby. This blueprint provides the roadmap to turn that vision into reality.”

Dr. Leana Wen, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said:

“America’s maternal mortality rate is worse today than it was thirty years ago, and the disparity between white and black mothers is unacceptable. As one of the few national health care organizations that provides critical services to support mothers and families before, during, after birth, Planned Parenthood stands with the Center for American Progress and its efforts to improve health for mothers and children, and to eliminate disparities in maternal and infant mortality.

Planned Parenthood recognizes that care for mothers and families must be comprehensive and address their holistic needs. Every one of our over 600 health centers provide blood pressure screenings, STI treatment, HIV testing, access to contraception, and pregnancy counseling. Some of our health centers provide prenatal and postpartum care, and some are increasing accessible care to new mothers through community and local partnerships, with services such as home visiting, mental health counseling, pediatric screenings, and connections to social resources, in line with the Center of American Progress’ recommendations. This policy framework is an important step to address this ongoing public health crisis and we look forward to working in partnership to drive programs and policies that create equitable, affordable, and accessible health care for all women, children, and families.”

Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong added:

“The historical foundations of racism and discrimination have led to the vast racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality we see today. It is no coincidence that the groups that have suffered continued subjugation in this country also have the poorest health outcomes. Maternal and infant mortality are no different with Black women dying needless, preventable deaths at a rate 3 to four times the rate of their white counterparts; and Black infants, twice as likely to die before their first birthday as white infants. Not adequately addressing the maternal and infant mortality crisis perpetuates the same cycles of oppression that caused this issue to begin with.

Black women and infants deserve care that is holistic, compassionate, and of the highest quality. Historically we know that there are systems that have violated and harmed us, and one of those systems is the health care system. We get to rewrite history by eradicating the root causes of this issue and implementing radical strategies that ensure our survival. I stand ready to continue this important work with the Center for American Progress in calling on policy makers to implement the bold, comprehensive set of policy strategies laid out in this new report.”

Please click here to read: “Eliminating Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality” by Jamila Taylor, Cristina Novoa, Katie Hamm, and Shilpa Phadke.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Julia Cusick at [email protected] or 202.495.3682.