Naima Black, Doula, CLC, Coordinator, North Philadelphia Breastfeeding & Community Doula Program, Maternity Care Coalition
In Collaboration with L’Oreal McCollum, MSW, LSW, M.Ed., Special Projects Coordinator, DBHIDS
The second Sunday in May marked the special day that we celebrate motherhood. We celebrate the impact of mothers within our culture, as well as our personal maternal bonds. With May also being National Mental Health Awareness Month, both instances present a fitting occasion to celebrate and highlight the unique role of doulas in supporting maternal mental health and wellness.
Birth is a powerful life event. It can fall along a wide spectrum from being joyful and exciting to frightening and traumatic. These experiences can profoundly affect women, birthing families, and their babies—consequently, causing significant and long-lasting effects on society.
Trained to provide continuous physical and emotional support during the prenatal, labor, childbirth, and postpartum periods, doulas can serve an important role in maternal health and wellness. They offer anticipatory guidance to birthing families and extended family members, as well as help mothers to get through the process with loving encouragement (via massage, visualization, breathing techniques, and additional coping strategies). In line with the community health worker model, doulas can help to reduce negative outcomes by supporting women’s access to health and social services and helping them to navigate their particular holistic health care needs. All of which increases the likelihood of safer, healthier, and more satisfying birth experiences.
As acknowledged by the National Partnership of Women & Families, “the benefits [of birthing support] are particularly significant for those most at risk of poor outcomes.” Such women and children, especially those of color, often do not have access to birthing support (due to the lack of Medicaid coverage and other programs for low income families). With childbirth already such a vulnerable time in the lives of mothers and birthing families, any number of combined stressors has the potential to undermine maternal health and wellbeing, and also impact the birthing family unit. Said stressors, often without adequate social and emotional support, can—as a result—lead to the development of behavioral health symptoms (such as postpartum depression) and increased social service utilization.
Maternity Care Coalition (MCC), whose mission is to improve maternal and child health and wellbeing, has offered free annual Community Doula trainings over the past 4 years. Community-based Doulas are trusted members of the same communities as the families they serve. In order to effectively prepare each doula to work with birthing families, MCC trains each cohort with the knowledge and skills to provide culturally and linguistically affirming support. Thereafter, pregnant women can be paired (at no charge!) with a community doula who is—in turn—paid a stipend through the program.
Philadelphia should take pride in its growing network of community-based birth workers. Predominantly women of color, these Community-based Doulas provide emotionally intelligent and non-judgmental mentoring and targeted childbirth education, essentially affecting a powerful and positive impact on their own communities, destined to influence generations to come. In line with the community health worker model, doula can help to inhibit negative health outcomes by supporting women’s access to health and social services and helping them to navigate their particular holistic care needs. All of which increases the likelihood of safer, healthier, and more satisfying birth experiences.
Learn more about Maternity Care Coalition’s North Philadelphia Breastfeeding & Community Doula Program by visiting http://maternitycarecoalition.org/families/get-help-now/mcc-services/north-philadelphia-breastfeeding-program/.
If you have (or anyone you know has) recently given birth and are experiencing depressive symptoms, please contact a trusted health professional. For immediate support, please contact CBH Member Services at 1-888-545-2600.