The Power of Doulas in Underserved Communities
June Eric-Udorie remembers the exact moment she decided to become a doula — a trained professional who provides physical, emotional, and educational resources for women throughout the spectrum of pregnancy, birth, and early postpartum.
Eric-Udorie, a 21-year-old student at Duke University majoring in African and African American Studies, was distraught after reading that college-educated black women were more likely to suffer major complications in pregnancy or childbirth than white women without high school diplomas. But the issue of racial disparity in maternal mortality became more pressing to her in 2018 when Serena Williams publicly shared her birth story.
“This superstar with all these resources almost died because her provider didn’t listen to her when she said something was wrong,” she said. “What about poor women, queer women, undocumented women, refugees, and women of color? What happens to them?”
Eric-Udorie’s concerns reflect a broader public health issue facing the United States: While the U.S. is one of the richest, most medically advanced countries in the world, it also has one of the highest maternal mortality rates, especially for birthing people of color.
A 2017 investigation found that American women are more than three times more likely to die during pregnancy, birth, or in the postpartum period than Canadian women, and six times more likely to die than Scandinavians. Maternal death is far more common in marginalized communities, particularly among African Americans and low-income or rural women. According to the Centers for Disease Control, most of these deaths are preventable.
Reasons for maternal mortality are multifaceted, but research shows a strong link between the stress of systemic racism and negative pregnancy outcomes. The support of a doula is one way to empower women to have more positive birth experiences.
Doulas don’t provide medical care for moms or babies like OB-GYNs or midwives (women’s health practitioners who work with low-risk pregnancies). Instead, they work together with moms and their health providers to improve physical and mental health outcomes by supporting mothers to…