New York is testing a Medicaid-sponsored doula program in hopes of reducing maternal and infant mortality rates. The New York State Doula Pilot Program will launch on March 1, according to BK Reader.
Doulas are certified professionals who give non-medical support to new mothers throughout their pregnancies and postnatal months.
“Research shows that doulas can help women have a more positive pregnancy experience and better health outcomes for themselves and their babies,” said New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “This pilot makes it possible for more women to have access to doula services during and after their pregnancies, which will hopefully reduce maternal mortality and morbidity.”
The program will be tested in New York's Erie County and Brooklyn because those areas have the highest mortality rates and Medicaid births, reports NBC New York. Doulas who participate in the program will be reimbursed for their services. It covers three prenatal doula visits and four post-birth visits.
Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (D) believes the use of doulas would do wonders for mothers of color.
“Doulas, midwives and alternative health practitioners have long been a part of maternal and family health in communities of color,” Wright said. “Capturing these important practitioners in Medicaid repayment is a major recognition and will go a long way to increase healthy births.”
A similar measure is being considered in neighboring New Jersey, according to NJ Spotlight.
“This needs to be universal,” doula Debra Pascali-Bonaro said. “Respectful care is medicine. When women don’t feel respected, honored or get the dignity they deserve, they do not thrive, and birth becomes something else.”
Pascali-Bonaro also argued providing this service could save insurance companies money.
Two female members of New Jersey’s Assembly described their opposite birthing experiences to illustrate the disparities. Nancy Munoz, a white mother of five, was able to give birth to all of her children vaginally, while Shanique Speight, a Black woman, had four cesarean sections. One of those C-sections was done without proper anesthesia, so she felt the doctor’s incision.
Speight felt like she was not given a chance to decide how she would give birth.
“That was not something I should have had to experience,” Speight said. “I had healthy pregnancies. I just had big babies — nothing more than that.”
Their experiences point to a more significant problem. In New Jersey, Black newborns are 50 percent more likely to be born underweight compared to white babies. They are also three times more likely not to make it to their first birthdays. The state’s Black mothers are four times more likely to die while giving birth.
New York’s maternal mortality rates have dropped in recent years, but Black women are still 12 times more likely than white mothers to die from complications caused by childbirth, according to New York’s Department of Health. The Kaiser Family Foundation found Black infants are more than twice as likely to die than white ones.
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