CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), black women are up to four times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women. But there are even more hard-hitting facts that really put a spotlight on how bad this problem is. There's a much bigger issue across the board for black women and their health: this vast disparity is one of the widest of all disparities in women’s health.
By comparison, black women are 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer and a whopping 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes than white women.
And, when we take a closer look at this pregnancy and death issue facing black mothers, the United States is in very bad shape compared to other countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disproportionate toll on African-American women is the main reason the U.S. maternal mortality rate is so much higher than that of other affluent countries. For example, black expecting and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan.
Experts say a lot of reasons contribute to this awful disparity but socioeconomic status is not one of them. Even black women who are well-off die at nearly a higher rate than affluent white women. The well-documented story of tennis champ Serena Williams underscores that conclusion.
Williams nearly died after giving birth to her first child because she had troubling convincing doctors she had a blood clot (of which she has a documented history). It took her repeatedly demanding that they check to see if she had formed one for them to act on her concerns.
Testing revealed she had a massive hematoma in her abdomen that required doctors rush her into emergency surgery just hours after she underwent a c-section to deliver her daughter.
Black women are also more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, when Medicaid kicks in. As a result, they're more likely to start prenatal care later and then lose coverage in the postpartum period. They're also more likely to have chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and hypertension -- all which make having a baby more dangerous.
Furthermore, hospitals where black mothers give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications. And, black women are 49 percent more likely than whites to deliver prematurely.
Finally, maternal age is also an important risk factor. Experts say birth outcomes get worse as we age. For white women, that begins in the 40s; but for their Black counterparts – it actually begins happening in the 30s.
These issues all contribute to the black maternal mortality rate being so disproportionately high but researchers are also beginning to study for the first time – the role that racism and implicit bias has in the crisis facing black Mothers.