Bringing More Doulas — And Better Birth Experiences — To Central New York

At the Health Foundation, we truly enjoy highlighting our grantee partners and the amazing work that they do. Here is a spotlight from our 2021 annual report: Connections.

All people deserve the support and resources necessary to have a healthy, happy pregnancy and birth. Access to doulas—trained advocates who provide support and guidance to mothers before, during, and after childbirth—has been linked to improved birth outcomes and better pre- and postpartum health. However, these services are not typically covered by health insurance, making them frequently inaccessible to people without the financial ability to pay for them.

With funding from the Health Foundation, a growing effort in central New York is trying to change that by building a network of trained doulas that provide services at no cost to parents. The Health Foundation supports this work as part of our mid-term goal that all mothers are served by trusted, unbiased, high-quality infant and maternal health care.

In response to high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in Cayuga County, a 2018 grant from the Health Foundation allowed the Cayuga Community Health Network to launch a program that helped train cohorts of doulas to meet the needs of low-income residents. Three cohorts of doulas were trained and began assisting births through referrals from local health care providers and community organizations who serve pregnant people.

“My doula helped me to keep my birth plan on target as much as possible. She was an excellent source of advice, encouragement, and information throughout the process of becoming a mother,” said one program client. “She instilled in me, and my husband, a sense of calm despite the many unknowns that pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the early days of parenthood held.”

Seeing the positive impact the program was making in Cayuga County, CCHN Executive Director Shari Weiss, PhD, reached out to partners at Seven Valleys Health Coalition in Cortland County and Madison County Rural Health Council with the goal of bringing doula services to more central New York communities. With a $125,000 grant from the Health Foundation, the three organizations developed the Doula Partnership of Cayuga, Cortland, and Madison Counties Pilot Program in 2021.

The Doula Partnership is building a coalition of doulas that can serve the needs of those who may not otherwise have access to these services, including immigrant communities, the local Mennonite population, and incarcerated people.

“The grant from the Health Foundation allowed our partners to do the groundwork to make the program successful—building awareness, making connections and strengthening relationships with providers and other referral sources, and training doulas,” said Shari.

Already, the impact is clear. Shari shared that a client was referred to their services by a local organization that works with human trafficking victims. The client was underage and had become pregnant after being trafficked, and was alone during labor. The Doula Partnership team jumped into action and connected her with a doula who met her at the hospital and provided support and comfort to guide her successfully through the birth. The doula also provided postnatal visits to assure the continued well-being of mother and baby.

“Because we can call on this network of trusted doulas, this person was not alone and scared during childbirth,” said Shari. She shared that the Doula Partnership hopes to have a big-picture impact on normalizing access to these services for everyone, regardless of class, race, or socioeconomic status.

“We have encountered some clients who thought they didn’t have the right to a doula,” said Shari. “This isn’t about privilege. This is a health care component that every person has the right to use to improve their chances of a healthy birth.”