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Health--it's what we all have in common: whether we're trying to maintain our health through good habits or improve our failing health. "Bridges to Health" is 90.5 WESA's health care reporting initiative examining everything from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act to transparency in health care costs; from a lack of access to quality care for minority members of our society to confronting the opioid crisis in our region. It's about our individual health and the well-being of our community.Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Researcher Says Affordable Doula Services Might Lower Infant Mortality Rate

Walter Astrada
A trio of babies sit under lamps in the maternity ward of Our Lady of High Grace Hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In Allegheny County, black babies are more than three times more likely to die within their first year than white babies.

Black babies in Allegheny County are nearly three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthdays.

Low birth weight, which is defined as less than 5.5 lbs, is the leading cause of death among African American infants. Maternal stress due to racism might be a major reason for this disparity

One way to decrease that gap? Making doula services in Pennsylvania more affordable, said Demia Horsely, a local public health researcher. 

Horsley presented her findings at a maternal health conference on Monday at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also a doula herself, which is someone who provides physical, mental and educational support to women before, during and after birth.

Horsley said black moms especially need this advocacy because it’s not uncommon for them to be treated poorly in medical settings.

“Moms talked about not being heard,” she said. “So one mom told me the medical care staff that multiple times that she was experiencing a burning and they kind of ignored her. And it took the doula to step in and say, ‘Wait, you need to change this for this mother because she’s experiencing discomfort.’”

In addition to doula services, research suggests medical students and professionals need to be trained on implicit bias in order to keep unconcious decisions, actions or attitudes in check

Horsley said a major barrier to women using doulas are out-of-pocket costs, which can be thousands of dollars. And while about half of all U.S. births are paid for by Medicaid, only Minnesota, Oregon and soon New York allow reimbursements for doulas.

90.5 WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.