By Michael Ollove
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In an effort to combat high infant mortality rates among newborns, the city of Baltimore is training “doulas” to help women during the time leading up to and immediately after pregnancy.
This city has opened a new front in its effort to give black newborns the same chance of surviving infancy as white babies: training “doulas” to assist expectant mothers during pregnancy, delivery and afterward.
The doula initiative is the latest salvo in the Baltimore City Health Department’s 7-year-old program to combat high infant mortality rates among black newborns.
“The impetus for this program is the huge disparity in infant mortality between blacks and whites born in this city,” said Stacey Tuck, maternal and child health director at the department.
Baltimore is not alone. New York, Chicago and Tampa have also used doula training programs to improve newborn health.
Other cities may follow, according to Dale Kaplan of the MaternityWise Institute, which conducts doula training in Baltimore. A number of other cities, including Denver, San Antonio and San Francisco, have contacted his organization to inquire about starting their own programs.
The U.S. infant mortality rate among African-Americans is more than twice as high as it is for white babies.
“Doula” comes from the Greek, meaning “a woman who helps.” Although doulas are trained to assist expectant mothers through labor, delivery and beyond, they are not medical providers like midwives.
Dona International, which calls itself the largest doula-certifying organization in the world, said doulas help mothers achieve “the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”
And doulas are good for babies, too. Doula-assisted mothers are less likely to deliver babies with low birth weights or with birth complications and more likely to breast-feed their infants, a 2013 study found. Mothers attended by female caregivers during labor are less likely to have cesarean births, require painkillers, or deliver babies in poor health, as indicated by low scores on the Apgar test, another study found.