Maternal Mortality Went Up in Pandemic’s First Year, Especially for Black Moms

Black women continue to die at higher rates than white women during childbirth, with maternal mortality rates rising again in 2020. Image via Shutterstock.

By Sarah Ovaska

February 24, 2022

Deaths of new parents continued to rise, especially among Black mothers, in the first year of the pandemic, new data shows. 

An alarming number of people in North Carolina and across the US are dying after giving birth.

The global pandemic saw those numbers rise further. In 2020, the first year of the outbreak, 861 women died during or shortly after childbirth, the CDC reported this week.

A third of those deaths were among Black women, who die at three times the rate of their white counterparts due to a host of inequities, including less access to quality health care and entrenched racial bias in medical systems that results in their needs being discounted or ignored.

The United States has the highest maternal death rate of any developed nation, and the often-preventable deaths of people giving birth has gone up steadily in recent decades. Similar disparities are reflected in the way babies in the United States and North Carolina fare, with Black babies in our state twice as likely to die in their first year than white babies.    

These continued disparities prompted US Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat, to found the Black Maternal Health Caucus in 2019. The group brings attention and resources to Black birthing parents and their babies.

One of the Black Maternal Health Caucus’ priorities was adopted when the Biden Administration’s pandemic recovery plan gave funding to states that would extend health care coverage to financially struggling mothers. 

Starting April 1, North Carolina will keep mothers who qualify on Medicaid for a year after birth, up from 60 days, a move that will allow new parents to seek the medical help they need. 


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