Risk Management Tools & Resources


Addressing Racial Disparity in Maternal Health

Marcy A. Metzgar

Addressing Racial Disparity in Maternal Health

One of the key challenges in addressing maternal mortality is the racial disparity that exists. Among high-resource countries, the United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality, and the risk is three to four times higher for black women, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.1 In fact, women in the United States are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their own mothers.2

Some contributing factors to the racial disparity include unconscious biases — both institutional and structural racism — and lack of insurance.

Efforts to address the racial disparity may include the following:

  • Promote understanding among patient, family, and community resources in order to improve communication.
  • Reduce risk factors for black women.
  • Advance the understanding of the experience of black women.
  • Increase protective factors such as the support women receive before, during, and after pregnancy.
  • Adopt evidence-based methods to decrease complications.
  • Improve assessment for and treatment of pre-existing health conditions and high-risk pregnancies.

Factors that can be modified at the clinician and healthcare institutional level to improve efforts to reduce disparities are contained in The Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care’s consensus statement and safety bundle, Reduction of Peripartum Racial and Ethnic Disparities.

Other group efforts to reduce racial disparity include actions undertaken by key national and local community stakeholders, such as the Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the Black Women Birthing Justice. These organizations have developed comprehensive analyses and policy recommendations that address the long-term efforts to combat racial bias and discrimination in maternal health.


1 Shah, N. (2019, March 14). Behind the headlines about maternal mortality. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Retrieved from www.ihi.org/communities/blogs/behind-the-headlines-about-maternal-mortality

2 Ibid.

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