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Community-based doula program aims to reduce Black maternal mortality rate

Italy, newborn

One Virginia county is taking specific steps to decrease maternal morbidity and mortality rates among African American women and other women of color. The most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that maternal mortality rates (death during pregnancy or up to six weeks after giving birth) among Black women in 2018 were 2.5 times higher than among white women, and 3.1 times higher than among Hispanic women.

According to the Richmond City/Henrico County Health Department website, the county has partnered with two local doula organizations to provide African American women with free support throughout their pregnancies and beyond into the postpartum period, which is increasingly called “the fourth trimester.”

The program description defines a doula as “a trained labor support person who comes from the same culture and background as the person giving birth. As trusted community members, community-based doulas perform home visits, help connect persons giving birth to local social services, and providing a holistic approach focusing on prenatal and postnatal health.”

The program began in April of 2021 and will run through October of this year. The partnership between Richmond-Henrico Health District and the two local organizations, Birth in Color RVA and Urban Baby Beginnings, was funded through a grant from the Henrico County Office of Emergency Management and allows for up to 120 women to receive free doula services.

The Birth in Color RVA website, which unfortunately also openly advocates for “equal access to safe abortion,” lists some of the known benefits associated with the assistance of a birth doula (or birth worker, in their terminology), including: “shorter length of labor, less frequent use of or need for pain medications, decreased chance of induced or augmented labor, fewer assisted deliveries, lower chance of needing a Cesarean section, increase in successful Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC), and higher satisfaction with labor.”

READ: ‘Abortion doulas’ help the poor get abortions… even if they don’t want them

Stephanie Spence, the director of Urban Baby Beginnings, the other community-based doula organization in the program, shared her personal experience of benefits for both herself and her child thanks to a doula. She told a local news channel, “I was just walking by myself. People weren’t listening or hearing me. I felt judged. Then, I got this doula, and she was like, ‘Stephanie, what do you want?’ I was like ‘what?!’ This really is a unique role in that it provides a well-rounded experience that the mom needs, to have that village of support.”

She continued, “A doula provides physical and emotional support to the birthing person. There are all different types of doulas, and that’s why we love this work. The simple presence of a doula, can reduce cesarean rates, increase breast feeding, reduce depression, and obviously reduce the negative impacts of bias and racism in health systems.”

Spence celebrated the new partnership, having found that “[m]any times [the mother] didn’t know [doulas] existed, and then they were too unaffordable. That’s something we have to address because health and wellness is something that’s just a right for everyone. So, if we know that doulas, and to implement doulas into the community, can be lifesaving, wouldn’t you offer that? To be that person who’s the recipient of services allows you to feel empowered. It allows you to feel like, ‘you know what, I have a voice’, especially with Black women whose voices tend to be suppressed in these systems. For them to know, ‘I can choose a different doctor’, ‘I can choose an epidural versus a natural labor’, or ‘I can have a doula for a C-section.’ A lot of these things aren’t known because we’re not sharing that.”

Live Action News has previously addressed false claims from abortion advocates that permissive abortion laws correlate with decreased maternal mortality. In addition, Live Action News has noted the conspicuous lack of research into or interest in the impact previous abortion(s) may have on maternal mortality rates, particularly among Black women, who have much higher rates of abortion and maternal mortality than other races.

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