Black Maternal Health Week begins today

Now in its sixth year, we need Black Maternal Health Week more than ever. Here's what's at stake — and how to get involved.

Black Maternal Health Week, founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) and held annually from April 11 to April 17 to bring awareness to the ongoing maternal health crisis plaguing Black birthing people, begins today — and this year, we may need it more than ever.

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 1,205 maternal-related deaths in 2021 — and after beginning to show encouraging signs of slowing, the maternal mortality rate rose by 40%. For Black birthing people specifically, the rate was 2.9 times higher than that of white people giving birth. While the COVID-19 pandemic’s demand on the healthcare system was a large contributing factor, Black maternal health has been in a state of crisis for decades.

Black Maternal Health Week Black Mamas Matter Alliance Black Maternal care
Black Maternal Health Week, founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, is held annually from April 11 to April 17. (Photo credit: Getty/Jose Luis Pelaez Inc)

When the BMMA launched in 2016, Black maternal mortality was 3.55 times higher than white maternal mortality. 

“It boils down to toxic stress, racism in society, in the healthcare setting, disparities in access to care. There’s a lot of work to do. I think we will see a change, but it is going to take a long time,” BMMA co-director Elizabeth Dawes Gay told People magazine in 2019, at which time mortality rates were nearly the same as they were in 2016. 

In 2023, with the rates on the rise once again, BMMA’s annual Black Maternal Health Week is aiming to help Black people reclaim their sense of agency. This year’s theme is “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!”  

“​In light of the steadily alarming rise of maternal mortality in the U.S., BMMA continues to highlight and center culturally congruent practices with a focus on Black Midwifery care and full-spectrum Black-led Doula care as sound, evidence-based solutions,” said Black Maternal Health Week organizers in a recent statement announcing the week, adding, “Most importantly, these are practices and solutions that incorporate the true needs, wants and desires of Black women and birthing people.”

A series of events, both virtual and in-person, are being hosted around the country through April 17. The Alliance is kicking things off today with an official tweetchat. Wednesday, April 12, BMMA is hosting a virtual rally; then on Friday, April 14, they will present a webinar titled “Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy through Innovative Research Practices”; and Saturday, April 15, beginning at 9 a.m., the Black Maternal Health Walk takes place in Atlanta.  

BMMA does not have chapters; however, its website includes links to local events happening this year across 14 states and virtually. 

“During BMHW, we encourage supporters to engage with and attend local events hosted by our Kindred Partners and Collaborators, or support birth and reproductive justice Black women-led efforts locally,” said organizers. 

In a proclamation by President Biden made Monday, he said, “Black Maternal Health Week is a reminder that so many families experience pain, neglect, and loss during what should be one of the most joyous times of their lives. It is an urgent call for action.” 

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands. 

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