Earlier this month, Mayor Adams signed into law a bill sponsored by local Councilmember Jennifer Gutierrez that would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide no-cost doula services to marginalized neighborhoods and establish a doula training program.
Called Introduction 472, the law will pilot in 33 neighborhoods, including Bushwick, identified as having a high level of health and economic disparities by the city’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity. It will also require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to train at least 50 doulas.
The bill’s goals are to address persistent racial disparities in maternal health. Said Gutierrez, “This bill is a small but very meaningful chip away at the system that does not keep black and brown women– particularly black women– safe, in a system that looks at pregnancy and labor and childbirth as this very peripheral societal thing.”
Doulas provide physical and emotional support to expectant mothers and families before, during, and after birth. According to a 2019 city report, “doula care has been associated with lower rates of Cesarean birth, preterm birth, low birthweight, and postpartum depression, as well as with increased rates of breastfeeding, and greater patient satisfaction with maternity care”.
Doulas can also provide more holistic, culturally sensitive care, especially to women of color who have had poor experiences with institutionalized maternal health care settings.
Gutierrez says that the individualized nature of doula and midwife care can be more representative of birthing practices outside the US. “[Doula care] is very ancestral. My own grandmother was a doula in my hometown.”
She emphasized the importance of a personal connection in the birthing process, saying, “for folks that are newer to the community coming from Central and South America, or parts of Africa, this concept of doulas and midwives is not new. It helps them immigrate easier, it helps them feel comfortable to ask more questions because this is a familiar practice.” Historically, midwives and doulas occupied prominent positions in African American communities, especially before the practice of delivering babies became a medical specialty.
The pilot program will kick off next month and continue through June 2024. “I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be able to look at this in a year and a half and see the benefit that it provides to communities and use that to expand citywide, Gutiérrez added.
The bill had been just one in a package of maternal health bills passed by NY City Council this past August. Other bills will expand outreach and education for birth services and maternal health, increase access to maternal morbidity data, and expand research efforts on health disparities.
As a new mother herself, Gutierrez says her advocacy for the maternal health bills is informed by her own positive experience with a midwife. “It can be very traumatic, just the hospital experience alone. My experience with a midwife in my labor, centered me and my health, which was so empowering.” She adds: ”If we can make that the standard for more and more pregnant people, think of the amount of healthy moms and healthy babies that we will have.”
Top image taken by John McCarten from the NYC Council Media Unit.
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