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The Benefits of Doulas for Black Maternal Health
Updated on
February 20, 2024

The Benefits of Doulas for Black Maternal Health

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The Benefits of Doulas for Black Maternal Health

There are so many different types of experts you might encounter during pregnancy and birth. There’s your ob-gyn, of course, and then there are lactation consultants, infant CPR instructors, hypnobirthing specialists—the list goes on. Every pregnancy is different, but there’s one specialist all pregnant folks should know about and think about adding to your pregnancy support crewa doula.

A doula is a non-medical professional who is there solely to support you during pregnancy and delivery—and often into the postpartum period, too. The American Pregnancy Association (APA) explains that doulas can provide information about pregnancy and birth, help families create a birth plan, inform about possible complications, side effects or outcomes, keep everyone calm and focusing during delivery, advocate for their clients at the hospital or birthing center, follow up after birth and more. “The goal of a doula is to help the mother experience a positive and safe birth,” the APA says.

Doula support can be particularly crucial for Black families, given that Black moms have significantly higher rates of complications from pregnancy and childbirth than their white and Latinx counterparts.

According to the CDC, Black moms are more likely to tragically die from pregnancy-related conditions like blood pressure disorders, heart diseases, blood clots, and hemorrhages. While addressing these disparities will require systemic changes like expanding insurance coverage and standardizing maternal care, doulas can be important advocates for Black moms.

“A doula before and after birth provides a mother with informational, emotional, and physical support for a smoother physical and mental recovery,” explains Ana Genao-Taney, a mom of three, postpartum doula, and founder of Mommy’s Bundle, a company that provides online parenting courses. “In short, a doula becomes a key advocate, making sure mom receives proper care in medical facilities, her community and home. This can be a major benefit to mitigating complications for mothers at a higher risk level.”

Some doulas are trained and certified by large organizations like DONA International, while others graduate from specialized courses or work independently. Depending on your location, you could expect to pay between $600 and $2,000 for pregnancy and birth doula care. It can be pricey, but for many families, the cost can be worth it—because research shows that doulas really can impact your pregnancy and delivery for the better.

“Having doula care means shorter labor, fewer C-sections, fewer epidurals and higher rates of breastfeeding success,” says Ruth Gordon-Martin, a postpartum doula and founder of CODDLE, a brand of natural and organic postpartum care products. Studies suggest that doula support can reduce serious complications like uterine ruptures and hysterectomies—and lowers the number of maternal deaths. This last point is particularly important for women of color, given that Black moms are significantly more likely to die from a pregnancy-related condition than white moms are.

“Having doula care means Black moms can better advocate for themselves in a system which is known for structural racism and obstetric violence,” Gordon-Martin says. “I educate moms on how to ask for a second opinion and ask about potential side effects…. As a doula myself, [I hope that] my presence is calming and empowering.”

Working with a doula is also an investment in your mental health. “I work a lot with women who have had traumatic births,” says Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Wisdom Within Counseling in Niantic, Connecticut. “Having a doula at the birth can prevent it from feeling traumatic or scary…it can provide calmness, emotional support, and nurturing during a brand new experience, where complications can occur.”

For example, Ziskind says, a doula can help talk you through a birth-related medical procedure (like getting an epidural or having your water broken manually) in a clear, calm, and nurturing way, with no confusing medical jargon. Knowing exactly what is about to happen, understanding how it will feel, and learning what any potential side effects or outcomes are will help you make an informed decision and prepare yourself for the experience.

The support doesn’t end when your baby arrives, as many doulas provide care for their clients throughout the postpartum experience as well. They can help you troubleshoot lactation issues, keep an eye on your mental health, and monitor your recovery. Many Black moms suffer complications after giving birth—overall, an estimated 52% of maternal deaths occur up to one year after a baby has arrived. An experienced doula can educate moms on what symptoms to look out for and when to seek help or identify a struggling mom and refer her to helpful resources.

“New moms often feel isolated after the arrival of the baby and it is during this postpartum recovery period when critical care is essential,” Genao-Taney says. “Pregnancy and birth complications can start immediately or show up weeks later, with issues like postpartum hemorrhage, infections, heart illnesses and depression.”

If you’re interested in working with a doula, try a Google search for providers in your area. If the price tag alarms you, don’t assume the worst—some doulas can work with clients on a sliding-scale basis. In addition, some employers may cover doula services as part of their healthcare benefit offerings.

“With a doula at the birth, there is better continuity of care for the after birth experience and for months afterwards,” Ziskind says. So, working with one is definitely something to consider.

Nina Bahadur

Nina Bahadur is a writer and editor focused on maternal health, racial disparities and health care access. She loves crosswords, long walks and exploring NYC with her rescue dog.

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