NEW YORK - Raina Whitfield and her partner are expecting a baby boy any day now. She is obviously excited but also, as Black woman, very concerned. The number of pregnancy-related deaths for white women is about 14 out of every 100,000 live births, according to the CDC. The rate is 11 deaths for Hispanic women. For Black women, it's 37.
"I know that the mortality rate among black women during birth and labor is higher," Whitfield said. "It's something that was scary enough for me that I wanted to have some additional support."
So she and her partner hired a doula.
Doulas are not medical professionals. Instead, they provide physical and emotional support before, during, and after childbirth. The doula is an advocate on behalf of the mother in the delivery room.
"Sometimes Black women and women, in general, can get dismissed or overlooked if they're trying to convey something about their bodies — that something doesn't feel right," Whitfield said. "Just having someone who can read the room, read my emotions, see what's going on. See if I'm being dismissed, if I haven't been checked on in a while."
She and her partner can afford to pay for doula services but many women cannot. That's where the city steps in. Healthy Start is a program provided in every borough of New York giving low-income women access to free services from doulas.
Mary-Powel Thomas is the director of the program in Brooklyn.
"We have seen that women in our program are about half as likely to have a preterm baby," Thomas said. "We've also seen they're about half as likely to have a baby with low birth weight."
She said their clients have a lot of fear going into labor.
"They are literally afraid of dying in childbirth," Thomas said, adding that the doulas help alleviate that fear.
"There is research showing that women who have doulas are less likely to need pain medication because the doula is there supporting and comforting them," Thomas said.
The program's goal is to reduce the disparities that exist during pregnancy for women of color.
NYC Health Department Doula Care
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene produces an annual report describing the state of doula care in the city. You can learn more about doula care here.
Brooklyn Healthy Start
Queens Healthy Start
Bronx Healthy Start
Greater Harlem Healthy Start
Staten Island Healthy Start
New York State Growing Up Healthy Hotline
The Growing Up Healthy Hotline can connect you with resources and other help with health care, nutrition, pregnancy, family planning, children's special needs, and more. You can call the hotline at 800-522-5006.