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Equity in maternal care

Women of color at high risk of childbirth complications

According to research from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), rates of severe maternal morbidity (SMM) are increasing among all women in the United States, with women of color experiencing higher rates of SMM than white women. The research also states that women in the U.S. are twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than women in other high-income countries.

Frequently asked questions about SMM

equity in maternal careWhat is SMM?

SMM refers to unexpected health outcomes from labor and delivery that result in short- and long-term consequences to a woman’s health. There are 21 risk factors the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follows as SMM indicators. Women of color face higher rates of SMM than white women.

How do we know disparities exist in maternal healthcare?

BCBSA conducted an independent study in 2021 that analyzed the claims of more than 2 million hospital deliveries between January 1, 2018, and October 31, 2020. BCBSA reviewed these claims to find those related to the 21 SMM indicators that the CDC uses. The report also highlighted some of the disparities in the type and quality of care that women of color experience.

Who is at risk for experiencing disparities in childbirth complications?

In 2020, women in Black/African American-majority communities face a 63% higher rate of SMM than women in white-majority communities.

Other findings from this report on racial disparities in SMM include:

  • Compared to women in white-majority communities, women in Black/African American-majority communities have higher prevalence rates for nearly all SMM indicators examined, such as kidney failure, sepsis, shock and eclampsia.
  • Women in Black/African American-majority communities are two times more likely to have risk factors for SMM.

How can we address these disparities?

BCBSA created a National Health Equity Strategy, which involves collecting data to measure disparities, scaling effective programs, working with providers to improve outcomes and address unconscious bias. This is then used to create partnerships at the community level, and influence policy decisions at the state and federal levels.

Where can I learn more?

You can find out more information by reading the full BCBSA Racial Disparities in Maternal Health Report. You can also visit the CDC’s research on SMM in the U.S or the Black Mamas Matter Alliance website to see their efforts to improve maternal care for Black/African American Women women.


Posted: April 13, 2022