Channel 4 documentary investigates issues around race in maternity care

An important documentary aired on Monday night investigating inequalities in maternal mortality rates depending on race. Here, we discuss some of the main issues raised and signpost to further resources and support.

The documentary is available to watch on Channel 4

If you were tuned into Channel 4 on Monday night, you may have seen the Dispatches documentary ‘The Black Maternity Scandal’. This powerful documentary explores the fact that Black mothers are 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth or shortly after, than white women. This statistic comes from the MBRRACE report released earlier this year. The documentary is focused on understanding why inequalities exist among women of different races. The data included in the MBRRACE report also shows that the risk of dying during pregnancy, in childbirth or shortly after was: 

  • 3 times higher for mixed race women
  • 2 times higher for Asian women. 

It is important to put these statistics into context and note that fewer than 1 in 10,000 women die in labour in the UK.

Quote marks Created with Sketch.

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.

— Rochelle Humes, documentary presenter

The documentary is very raw and moving, including stories from families who have been affected by the issue. Rochelle Humes, presenter, businesswoman and mother of 3, presents the documentary, having given birth to her third child earlier this year. In the lead up to the release, Rochelle spoke on This Morning, stating "the main issue that comes to play is that Black women aren’t feeling like their pain is being taken seriously or that they’re listened to and that is the underlying issue that comes up time after time". 

Mars Lord, who is a doula and influential voice in the birthing community, comments on her own experience in the documentary. "Black women aren’t given choices in the same way,” she says. “They’re told, ‘I’m just going to do this’. Whereas with my white clients [it’s], ‘I’m just going to do this. Is this OK?’ Or ‘This is what I’d like to do’, and that’s the difference."

FiveXMore is an organisation that has been campaigning for issues around maternal mortality rates to be discussed in the House of Commons. Their appeal was successful earlier this year, and they now have a date for their petition ‘Improve Maternal Mortality Rates and Health Care for Black Women in the U.K.’ to be debated in April.  The organisation has set out a list of of 6 recommendations that they encourage Black women to follow when receiving maternity care. Co-founder, Tinuke, talked a little bit about these issues for BBC Five Live:

One issue raised by the documentary that has not received much attention to date is the idea of ‘near misses’.  Many women in the UK are living with the physical and mental consequences of surviving a life-threatening complication during pregnancy, childbirth or shortly after. Oxford University professor Marian Knight who worked on the MBBRACE research, says there is more yet to be unearthed around this topic.

Infographic exploring some of the key themes of the documentary.
Infographic produced by Channel 4, Dispatches

If you are currently pregnant and are from a Black, mixed race or Asian community, we understand that this topic may trigger feelings of fear and anxiety. Please reach out to your midwife or GP for extra support and to talk through any concerns you have. As we have already mentioned, the risks discussed are still low in the UK, but it’s important to address any inequalities that currently exist. 

If you have experienced past birth trauma and the documentary has brought up difficult feelings and emotions, please ask your GP to provide guidance around any support you can receive to help with your mental health and wellbeing. 

Support with symptoms 

Most of the time, pregnancy symptoms are easily treated and will not cause serious problems, but it is always important to check. You should never be worried about wasting anyone's time by getting symptoms checked. Your maternity team is there to look after you and make sure you and your baby are happy and healthy. 

We have a question list that is available to download and have with you during appointments. It includes a list of questions to ask your healthcare professional that is designed to support you if you don't understand what you are being told or you want to question the care you are receiving. 

Download our Always Ask Question List.