This spotlight was originally shared in ‘2020 Annual Report: A Transformative Year’.
Disparities in maternal health outcomes are a national crisis. Black women in the United States are more than three times more likely to die from childbirth-related complications than their white counterparts. A number of systemic factors contribute to these rates, including bias in health care delivery and barriers to health coverage.
A new program, funded by the Health Foundation in 2020 and led by the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center (ENAHEC), is working to change the odds for Black mothers in western New York.
The program’s aim is to expand the capacity of the Erie County Doula Task Force and the New York State Department of Health Doula Pilot Program to improve maternal and infant health disparities among Medicaid eligible mothers in Erie County. Danise Wilson, ENAHEC’s Executive Director, explained why increasing access to doulas could make a difference for Black mothers. Research is clear that having a doula can greatly increase a mother’s chance for healthy birth outcomes,” says Danise. “Doula access is linked with a decrease in Caesarean section rates, pre-term births, and a number of other complications. But usually, doula services are very costly, and it is hard for low-income women and those who are enrolled in Medicaid to have the same access to them.”
ENAHEC’s doula program is multifaceted and aims to
- Recruit and train more Black women to become doulas
- Increase community knowledge and understanding of the importance of doula access
- Educate health care providers on the role of doulas in maternal care
- Provide support and education to doulas to help them navigate the complexities of the Medicaid system
So far, the program has trained over 22 new doulas, all of whom people of color, and connected dozens of mothers with these services. This work also includes partnerships with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and the March of Dimes.
Future goals include developing a website and toolkits to help mothers learn more about and connect with doulas. Long term, the ENAHEC team hopes the program will lead to a sustainable model that could include Medicaid reimbursement for these services.
“Ultimately, we want to save Black moms and Black babies, and low-income moms and babies,” says Danise. “I know by growing the doula community we can get closer to that goal.”
A mother who participated in the doula program shared the following testimonial:
“Having a doula helped me so much. Not only was this woman going to help me through pregnancy, but she was also going to help bring my daughter Earthside and help me in the postpartum stage! Knowing that I had a doula who knew my birth plan and could advocate for me when I might have been too weak or too out of it to do so myself put my mind at ease. Doulas don’t work for you; they work with you to make sure that your birth plan is followed! I’m thankful for my doula—she was the best!”