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Could doulas be the answer to improving birth outcomes in Central Texas?

Baby toes
Posted at 3:09 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 17:37:45-05

Waco Family medicine joined forces with Community Doulas of Waco to launch a paraprofessional training program aimed at improving birth outcomes in the area.

The program trains women in the community in fields like lactation, perinatal education, and birth and postpartum doula work. The goal of the program is to improve birth outcomes in Central Texas, while also providing moms who complete the training with another source of income.

A Balancing Act

Grace Morris-John is one of nine moms who was given a scholarship through the program. As a stay-at-home mom with four kids, balancing her studies takes a lot of discipline.

“When they’re taking naps, I’m usually reading or doing something,” explained Morris-John.

Morris-John said she was inspired to become a doula after she had bad experiences with the births of her first two children. She says her second child was born with the cord wrapped around his neck, but no one at the hospital told her.

“Having those experiences — knowing what I know now after having them — I don’t want anybody else to have to navigate that themselves,” said Morris-John. “Having a doula, I would have had a voice to actually voice my concerns.”

For the birth of her third child, Morris-John hired a midwife. For her fourth child, she hired a doula through Community Doulas of Waco. She says it made all the difference.

“If you’re going into labor stressed that can have a big impact on you. It can make your labor take longer. It increases your risk of complications. People underestimate the effect just being stressed can have on you having a baby.”

After her experience, Morris-John talked to her husband about becoming a doula herself, but they didn’t have the funds for her training. That’s when she got an unexpected call from Community Doulas of Waco — offering her a scholarship to help her go through training for free.

“I was so excited. I was so excited.” said Morris-John, “If I hadn’t gotten the scholarship, it would have been at least a couple of years until I could get started. And now I’m halfway done.”

Alarming Statistics

Waco Family Medicine funded the scholarships in response to alarming statistics. According to March of Dimes, the US has one of the worst rates for maternal death among developed countries. More than 700 women die from childbirth each year and around 600 thousand women face serious health challenges.

For communities of color the risks are even higher. According to the CDC, black and indigenous women are 60% more likely to experience preterm birth than white women and their babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday.

“It’s been around for decades — that gap, but at Waco Family Medicine we’re saying that’s unacceptable,” said Emilie Cunningham, the Director of Programs for Women and Children at Waco Family Medicine.

Cunningham says she and her team were looking for out-of-the-box ideas to help change these statistics. Cunningham says they noticed that there was a shortage of peer support available to pregnant women of color in the Waco area. They believe doulas could help fill this gap.

“Doulas kept rising to the top because they are rooted in relationship, and that’s the secret sauce, right?” said Cunningham. “The secret sauce is access, kindness, and information that's relevant to you … Doulas increase maternal confidence, improve outcomes for both mothers and baby, and breastfeeding success.”

For Grace Morris-John, balancing four kids and her studies is a lot to juggle. But she’s on a mission to have an impact — one mom at a time.

“I’m so, so happy that I’m getting to do it,” said Morris-John, “I’m grateful to them for helping me make my dream come true.”

Waco Family Medicine says they're planning to expand the program in 2022.

You can find more information about Community Doula’s of Waco’s program and mission on their website: https://communitydoulaswaco.org/.