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Delaware Doulas Address Black Maternal Health Disparities

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The Do Care Doula Foundation is working to decrease maternal mortality rates in Delaware—especially those in the Black community.

Pregnancy and childbirth should be an exciting, memorable time for expectant mothers. But despite all our modern technology and healthcare programs, the United States currently has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 24.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women, with a maternal mortality rate of 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births. In addition, there is a significant shortage of maternity care providers—whether it’s ob-gyns, midwives or doulas—relative to births, as well as a drastic lack of postpartum support services available to new mothers.

In Delaware, racial health disparities continue to be an area of concern for women and their maternity care providers. The Black maternal mortality rate in the state is 36.3%, compared to 14.8% of Caucasian women, according to America’s Health Rankings. Similar racial disparities exist among infant mortality rates. The March of Dimes reports that the Black infant mortality rate in Delaware is 12.4 per 1,000 live births, compared to 3.1 per 1,000 live births for white babies and 5.6 per 1,000 for Hispanics.

Erica Allen, LPN, founder of the nonprofit Do Care Doula Foundation Inc., based in Smyrna, is doing everything in her power to change those statistics. She and her team of doulas, who provide support to Black women during their pregnancies and throughout the childbirth and postpartum process, are working hard to decrease Black birth disparities.

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“Doula care is important to the Black birthing community because Black birthing people are two to three times more likely to suffer negative outcomes in relation to the pregnancy, birth and postpartum period in comparison to Caucasian birthing people,” Allen says. “Studies have shown that doulas are able to decrease some of those occurrences by providing education, as well as continuous support to Black birthing people. Knowing what to expect is key in assisting [women] when preparing for birth, as well as knowing what to watch out for in regard to treatment from providers.”

Doulas provide nonmedical support to women during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. In addition, doulas help to educate, advocate for and support mothers-to-be with a personalized level of care based on the client’s specific needs.

This individualized care, however, doesn’t come for free. One of Allen’s main goals, she says, is to obtain grants, sponsorships and other funding so her team of doulas can provide care to the Black community at low cost or no cost to clients, in an effort to minimize health disparities such as pre-term birth, elective inductions that could result in cesarean sections and, ultimately, the death of a baby or mother due to inadequate care.

“Providing free doula support is important because Black women should not have any barriers to receiving support to stop them from possibly experiencing negative outcomes.”
—Erica Allen, LPN, founder of the nonprofit Do Care Doula Foundation Inc.

“If you are a Black birthing person, you are more likely to suffer negative outcomes just because you are Black,” Allen says. “Providing free doula support is important because Black women should not have any barriers to receiving support to stop them from possibly experiencing negative outcomes.…Providers often do not have an adequate amount of time to meet with pregnant women due to the high volume of patients they see. This leads to rushed appointments and may result in a feeling of uncertainty regarding medical concerns. Our goal is to bridge that gap and be there to provide overall support to these women throughout the birthing process and postpartum period.”

“Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women, with a maternal mortality rate of 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births.”

Thus far, the organization has received grants from Highmark, Walmart and Wawa, and continues to seek additional funding to support their work and training of current and future doulas. Four of the doulas, including Allen, are currently training to become some of the first Black certified professional midwives in the state, which would allow them to provide medical support to women throughout the birthing process.

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