Nov 14, 2023 - News

Boston's plan to offer doula services is taking shape

Illustration of a seagull holding a baby bundle.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Come next year, Boston could become one of the only cities in the nation to offer doula services for expecting parents.

Why it matters: Black mothers and babies face mortality rates more than twice as high as white mothers and babies because of environmental factors and racism — even if white and Black parents are just neighborhoods apart.

  • Doula services could help reduce those disparities, health experts say.

Catch up fast: The Boston Public Health Commission received a $4.7-million grant from the feds to launch a community-based perinatal health project that would connect pregnant parents to doulas and train and certify 25 new doulas from underserved communities.

  • The program's goal is to train another 50 practicing doulas annually.

What's happening: Boston health officials are starting to build the new doula services team.

  • The BPHC is hiring a director, training manager, coordinator and a public health advocate.
  • The team will also work with an outside evaluator, who will monitor the project's success, as required by the grant. The BPHC has partnered with Boston-based Accompany Doula Care.

Threat level: The need for equitable and culturally competent reproductive health care is high nationwide, health experts say.

  • Maternal mortality rates more than doubled between 1999 and 2019, especially among Black and indigenous parents, per an IHME/Mass General Brigham study.
  • Pregnant parents who are Black, Latino and Indigenous face a higher risk of preeclampsia, diabetes, blood clots and other conditions.

What they're saying: "A lot of this is addressing these health inequities that Black women [and] Latinas are facing," says Becky Cruz Crosson, BPHC's director of Healthy Start Systems, which helps pregnant parents and families with young children.

  • "So much of the work that we're going to be doing is making sure that those communities have access to these kinds of services."

Zoom out: Few cities offer government-funded doula services.

  • New York City and Philadelphia both offer doula services, but they're limited to pregnant people who meet income eligibility and other requirements.
  • The BPHC's services are available to any pregnant resident.

What's next: BPHC officials haven't set a target date for the launch, but they plan to build out the core team and start internal training in the spring.

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