Program offering free doula care for Black women launches in Henrico County

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Black and African American women living in Henrico County now have the opportunity to apply for a free community-based doula program.

The care is provided by Birth in Color RVA or Urban Baby Beginnings. This program is funded through a grant sponsored by the Henrico County Office of Emergency Management.

A community-based doula is a trained labor support person who is from the same culture and background as the person giving birth. A doula is able to advocate, perform home visits, help connect persons giving birth to local social services, and provide a holistic approach focusing on prenatal and postnatal health.

“I hear it from our moms all the time that they feel very isolated. People are not speaking to them, explaining things, or getting informed consent,” Executive director of Urban Baby Beginnings Stephanie Spencer told 8News. “During my first pregnancy, I felt very very alone. There were a lot of assumptions made.”

The expansion of this program allows the county to enroll an additional 120 women into the program.

Doulas with Urban Baby Beginnings sit and chat. (Photo: Urban Baby Beginnings)

This program wants to combat health disparities and provide Black women with an empowering birth experience. According to the Richmond and Henrico Health District, research shows that doulas lessen the chance of low birth weight and infant/maternal mortality.

Spenser says representation in the delivery room matters, but often that’s not the case. According to a study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2018, only 5% of physicians nation-wide were African American.

Common causes of infant mortality are premature birth, low birth weight, maternal complications and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Black women are two to three times more likely to die during childbirth in the state of Virginia,” Spencer said. “I’ll use a study done at UVA about believing black women when they’re in pain. Presenting into systems and people don’t believe you. As a result, you get sent back home, which can be grave. It’s happened to me. It’s a judgment people make based on skin color, based on presentation and even insurance. Racism does play a part and statistics show that there are variations between white and black women in terms of outcomes.”

Doulas with the Urban Baby Beginnings program. (Photo: Urban Baby Beginnings)

Women who are interested in seeing if they qualify for a doula can apply using this screening form. To be eligible for the program, besides identifying as a Black or African American woman, you must reside in Henrico County and be eligible for WIC.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, women matched with a doula meet virtually, but in the near future the doulas will be making home visits.

Acceptance into the program is not guaranteed.

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