The Community-Based Doula Program provides low-income mothers with someone from their community who can help make breastfeeding easier, and guide them toward a healthy pregnancy and a baby who has the ultimate nutritional advantage. This study shows that community-based doulas can change the way our country cares for our most vulnerable moms and babies, and it can save taxpayer dollars.
U.S. breastfeeding rates are particularly low in disadvantaged communities, where babies are more likely to face health problems. The World Health Statistics in 2010 revealed that 40 countries had better neonatal mortality rates than the United States and 32 had higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six months. Furthermore, according to the CDC1, Non-Hispanic Black babies were almost twice as likely as Non-Hispanic white babies to be born at low birth weight, and Black babies were twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday.
Community-based doulas change this trajectory, with an approach that consistently results in high breastfeeding rates and low c-section rates. A community-based doula is a woman of and from the same community who provides emotional and physical support to a woman during pregnancy, birth and the first months of parenting, through home visits and center-based activities. The effectiveness of the program emerges out of the trusting relationship between a community-based doula and her participant, the duration of their relationship, and the continuous presence of the doula during labor and birth.
The study, supported jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at 8 community-based doula sites around the country assisted by HealthConnect One, and found that 87% of community-based doula clients were breastfeeding at 6 weeks, as compared to 61% of a similar sample. Even at 3 months, 72% of community-based doula clients were still breastfeeding, as compared to 48% of the broader sample.
The Community-Based Doula program has since been adopted by multiple organizations and was named a best practice by AMCHP’s Innovation Station in 2015.