I didn't hire a doula when I was pregnant with my son. I wanted to, but I wasn't in a position financially to make it happen. While doulas offer pregnant women vital physical and emotional support to ease the stress and demands of pregnancy and labor, their fees can be anywhere from $500 to $2,500 per birth. The fees are justified because research shows doulas can provide life-saving prenatal and perinatal help, but if your insurance carrier doesn't cover certified doulas, then your access is limited.
Enter New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, who's running for re-election this year, recently announced a new pilot program that would expand Medicaid coverage for doulas, among other initiatives, according to The New York Times.
And there's a really important reason why Cuomo is putting this program into motion: A New York State Department of Health report released last year found that black women in the state face a disproportionately high maternal mortality rate compared to white women. In numbers: black women are four times more likely to die during labor, according to the report.
That number reflects nationwide rates: According to U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white women. National statistics also show that women of color are more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid.
Cuomo said in a statement, according to The New York Times: "Maternal mortality should not be a fear anyone in New York should have to face in the 21st century. We are taking aggressive action to break down barriers that prevent women from getting the prenatal care and information they need."
Although black women and women from low-income households are most likely to want to use a doula, they're the least likely to have access to their services. So the New York state pilot program is a way to close that gap, as well as lower the number of maternal deaths, The New York Times reported.
And there's likely a chance the program will achieve just that. A 2016 study published in the journal Birth found that support from a certified doula can lower cesarean and preterm births, as well as improve infant health outcomes at birth. Not only that, but a 2013 Journal of Perinatal Education study discovered that mamas who received help from a doula were four times less likely to experience maternal or fetal birth complications.
But the benefits of a doula aren't just physical. Doulas also offer much-needed emotional support to pregnant women. Pregnancy and labor are intense experiences and for some mamas, the process can be traumatic. Having a doula by your side throughout it all can help ease any anxiety, stress and fears a mama-to-be feels.
Cuomo's pilot initiative is affirming news for doulas and their supporters. The fact is, doulas provide important, life-saving assistance to mamas-to-be and their families. And every pregnant woman deserves access to support, no matter what. Maybe in the future, women like me won't have to go without this invaluable support.