The Black Maternity Scandal

Lucy Donoughue
By Lucy Donoughue,
updated on Mar 29, 2021

The Black Maternity Scandal

Channel 4 Dispatches investigates latest figures which show that Black women are just over four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth and up to six weeks postpartum

On Channel 4 Dispatches: The Black Maternity Scandal, presenter and mum of two Rochelle Humes investigates the shocking increase in the likelihood of death during pregnancy and after the birth of their child, for Black women.

“Learning that Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and up to six weeks after birth was shocking and I felt compelled to share this to a wider audience, Rochelle says. “While we’re incredibly lucky to have the NHS, and the UK remains a relatively safe place to give birth, it is essential that we better understand why these disparities in maternal deaths exist and ask what we can do to reduce risk for all mothers.”

The latest published maternal mortality figures also show that mixed ethnicity women are three times more likely to suffer maternal death during pregnancy and Asian women are nearly twice as likely.

Although this disparity has steadily been widening over the decade, there is no definitive explanation for why mortality rates vary. NHS acknowledge and regret this disparity but there are currently no specific targets set to reduce the disproportionate rates.

Accounting for severe maternal morbidity

Maternal death rates do not give a full picture, however, because research shows that for every one woman of any race who dies, around 100 will suffer a "severe maternal morbidity" - often referred to as a 'near miss'. Although data is not currently collected in a consistent way, one study from 2014 shows that compared with white European women, Black African women are 83% more likely and Black Caribbean women 80% more likely to suffer a near death experience during pregnancy and in the weeks after childbirth.

“There is a lack of support for brown, Black and marginalised communities”

Natalie Cook died after the birth of her secong child, at just 35 years old, after an amniotic fluid embolism (known as AFE) which, globally, is one of the leading causes of direct maternal death. Her sister Naomi, shares on Dispatches that while her family received counselling organised by the hospital, other aspects of their aftercare were poorly handled and insensitive. “There is a lack of support for brown, Black and marginalised communities. The system isn’t built for that support,” Naomi says.

Minister for Maternity Nadine Dorries is now working to address this and ensure that all brown, Black and marginalised communities are no longer at a significantly elevated risk: “The colour of a woman’s skin should have no impact on her or her baby’s health. I am absolutely committed to tackling disparities and making sure all women get the right support and best possible maternity care. I have launched an oversight group to monitor how the health service is tackling maternal inequalities.

Dispatches: The Black Maternity Scandal
First broadcast Monday 29th March, 8pm

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