Doula care can have a meaningful effect on improving maternal health. Studies have demonstrated that support from non-clinical providers within Medicaid populations, such as doulas, is associated with:
- lower cesarean rates
- fewer obstetric interventions
- fewer complications
- higher rates of breastfeeding
Oftentimes, however, access to doulas can be difficult, especially for underserved communities.
New Mexico is one such place. The state ranks 49th in the country in terms of adequate prenatal care. Pregnant people in rural and frontier communities live in “maternity deserts” with limited access to obstetrics care, where it can take hours of driving to reach a hospital.
On top of that, in a state that has more than 47% of its residents identifying as Hispanic, finding providers who are culturally competent can prove to be difficult. Other issues like high turnover with maternal care staff may also be alienating.
“Doulas are filling critical gaps in care of even just being able to access someone to answer questions, to get a referral and to not be alone when your entire plan or entire care team has shifted,” said Melissa Marie Lopez, executive director of the New Mexico Doula Association.
In order to support the work of doulas within the state, UnitedHealthcare has donated $150,000 to the New Mexico Doula Association.
“This support from UnitedHealthcare has been crucial in uplifting both the profession of doulas, as well as access to those most disadvantaged in the health care system,” Melissa said.
The grant has empowered the organization and doulas in the state in two ways. First, two grants of $50,000 helped expand the number of doulas being hired to assist new mothers in the state. The grant funding also supports curriculum development, in order to directly impact and train the next generation of doulas. The New Mexico Doula Association is using the grant to develop their own materials that reflect the unique and culturally diverse community, and plan on training about 10 doulas, in their first cohort later this year.
“Doulas serve some of New Mexico’s highest need communities, including rural areas with provider shortages” said Drew Peterson, CEO, United Healthcare Community & State of New Mexico. “We are committed to supporting organizations like the New Mexico Doula Association which close gaps in care by delivering culturally component care directly in the community.”
For mothers in this often-underserved area, doulas can have a crucial impact on health outcomes. A pregnant teen who was facing difficult and specific health needs had the assistance of two doulas who helped her through a premature delivery and the child’s post-natal care. Melissa said the doulas were able to tag team in order to meet the young mother’s needs.
“There’s no way that family would have had access to doulas otherwise,” she said.
Doulas provide assistance for people who give birth in holistic ways. This can be through access to resources, advocacy with providers and knowledge about the birth experience. But sometimes, it’s simply an encouraging word or supportive presence.
With this grant to the New Mexico Doula Association, UnitedHealthcare aims to help improve outcomes for the entire maternal health system in the state — from birth to birth to postpartum care.
To find out more about the New Mexico Doula Association, visit https://nmdoula.org.