In the United States, Black maternal health is a touchy topic that often does not get the coverage that it deserves. It does not help that the Black maternal death rate in the U.S. is at an all-time high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has a maternal death rate of 20.1% per 100,000 pregnancies, and that number is only rising. In the U.S., Black women and other women of color generally do not get enough care during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. The situation is so dire that many hospital systems across the U.S. have begun to willfully accept the high death rates of Black and brown women during childbirth. This is where Black doulas are stepping in to make a significant difference and bring in advocacy, reform, and perspective.
According to DONA International, a doula is a trained, non-clinical professional who provides a constant emotional, physical, and directed support system to pregnant women before, during, and after childbirth. Expert studies have discovered that this consistent and tailored support for women significantly improves the entire birth experience and continuous well-being for both mother, child, and family. Additionally, studies and reviews have shown no downsides or adverse effects of doula support.
Combat Birthing Trauma
In addition to providing personalized care and support, the influence of doulas can significantly reduce the traumas and negative birthing experiences that most Black and brown women face. Because Black and brown women often feel dismissed and unheard by their medical providers, the childbirth process can be traumatic. With the help of a knowledgeable doula, experiences like these can reduce tremendously.
Improve Breastfeeding in Black Moms
In her book, Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice (Stanford University Press), law professor Andrea Freeman, uses thorough socioeconomic, historical, and legal contexts to analyze the lower rates of breastfeeding among Black mothers compared to white and Latinx women. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 66% of Black infants are breastfed compared to 82% of white and Latinx moms. By providing one-on-one training and guided information, doulas can step in and improve breastfeeding in Black moms by providing the care, information, guidance and education that new moms and their families need to be successful.
Better Quality Of Life After Birth
According to research, Black women who doulas assisted were four times less likely to have a low birth weight (LBW) baby. They were also two times less likely to have a birth complication involving themselves or their baby and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding and develop healthy breastfeeding practices.
Black doulas significantly address the discrimination that Black women face in the healthcare system. They specifically play a crucial role in confronting the racism, discrimination, and lack of empathy that many Black women frequently report experiencing during pregnancy and childbirth. Trained Black doulas empower Black and brown pregnant women with the resources, tools, and education they need to advocate for themselves.
The increasing popularity of doulas and the support that they can provide across the board has grown. Many grassroots organizations advocate for Black and brown women to use doulas during their pregnancy. In response to the advocacy efforts across the country, many U.S. lawmakers have begun to actively propose various legislations aimed at enabling minority and underserved populations to gain access to doulas, mainly through health programs like Medicaid.
In addition to empowering their clients individually, doulas also serve as the middle ground between doctors and birthing mothers. By serving as a buffer who empowers their clients and provides emotional and moral support during childbirth, they often always collaborate with the doctors. Not all doctors are the same, and in fact, some doctors dismiss their clients, but by collaborating with doctors during childbirth on behalf of their clients, doulas can de-escalate the tensions that can occur in the labor room.
Navigating The Fourth Trimester
The fourth trimester is the time that mothers heal after having a child. Although it is also a significant phase, it is often widely overlooked and not taken as seriously in most of the U.S. healthcare system. Many Black women and women of color do not receive the care they need during this time. As a result of this lack of care, roughly 65 percent of maternal deaths occur in the weeks following delivery. This is a vulnerable time for new mothers who may generally feel out of touch with traditional medical care teams, which can be dangerous. In instances like these, Black doulas step in and help navigate the fourth trimester, which leads into the postpartum journey.