This year, dozens of mothers who wouldn’t otherwise have had access to a doula will receive personalized, hands-on help from doulas and other community health workers before, during, and after their babies are born.
That’s thanks to NHRMC’s Community Health Worker-Doula Program, which officially begins this month. The program, funded by a two-year federal grant, connects pregnant mothers to a community health worker and doulas who will help educate and serve as a support system for the moms during their pregnancies and for up to a year after they give birth.
The program will primarily serve black mothers in New Hanover, Pender, and Columbus counties, whose babies die more often than do babies born to white or Hispanic mothers. If a black baby is born underweight -- which is more likely to happen to black infants than it is to white infants -- that baby is almost four times more likely to die.
That’s a national statistic, but it’s also true in southeastern North Carolina. Many of those underweight births are caused by black mothers’ pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, or asthma. Often, those conditions are caused by a lack of what healthcare providers call social determinants of health: little or no access to things like safe housing, grocery stores, or quality healthcare services and high exposure to discrimination and racism. Black women are also less likely than white women to receive early prenatal care, according to the North Carolina Institute of Medicine: About 60% of black women had care, as compared to more than 75% of white women.
“We’re excited to support women to provide culturally competent and quality care as they prepare for labor and delivery and as they navigate their baby’s first year,” said Marissa Bryant, NHRMC’s health equity coordinator.
The program will serve up to 30 mothers over two years referred from NHRMC Coastal Family Medicine and NHRMC Physician Specialists - OB-GYN specialists, Bryant said. They’re also partnering with teen parent programs in the area.
The doulas and community health worker will provide “that extra education” for an informed and empowered birth experience for moms, Bryant said. The mothers will learn “what exactly a doula’s role is and what are important things for you to know throughout your pregnancy.”
In addition to providing education, the doulas and community health workers will build strong relationships with the mothers.
The opportunity to build relationships with women of color is what attracted community health worker Courtney Floyd to the program. Floyd has three sons, a six-year-old and four-year-old twins. When she gave birth to her first child, she formed a bond with a black lactation consultant. That was one of the only healthcare workers of color Floyd interacted with, she said, and as a black woman, she wanted to see herself better represented.
Floyd met with her first mother in the program in mid-December, scheduling her first breast-feeding assessment and making sure she knew about other resources available to her. This wasn’t the woman’s first pregnancy, but Floyd hoped her assistance would lead to a smoother postpartum experience than the woman had in the past.
“It’s important for everyone to know that the disparities are real,” Floyd said, indicating that this is a national issue. “Hopefully we can close that gap.”
For more information, contact Health Equity Outreach Coordinator Marissa Bryant at Marissa.Bryant@nhrmc.org.