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DES MOINES, Iowa — There is a new effort to improve maternal and infant birth outcomes for Black families in the state.

The Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Black Doula Collective have partnered to create a Title V program that offers birth doula services for free to 40 black families in Polk, Black Hawk, Dubuque, and Scott counties. The program addresses the disparities Black mothers and their babies face such as increased rates of stillbirth, premature births, and maternal death more than any other race.

The Iowa Black Doula Collective’s co-founder, Ebonie Bailey, calls the program a step in the right direction.

“Being able to give these families access to people who look like them to provide advocacy and support and they don’t pay anything is a big deal for the doulas but an even bigger deal for the families,” says Bailey.

Doulas are non-medical professionals who provide support to birthing families throughout the pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and postpartum. They also help families make well-informed decisions before birth and with medical professionals. Bailey says having a birth advocate can greatly improve the birth experience. The Black Doula Collective also stresses the importance of empowering women to have a say in their birth experience.

“Oftentimes we are taught from a very early age that the provider is the hierarchy so whatever they say goes and you don’t challenge it by saying anything,” explains Bailey.

The program is also working to achieve more diversity in perinatal work as well as create a reimbursement plan for all doulas. The Black Doula Collective says that would help prove the positive impact doulas serve in the birthing community. Currently, there are roughly 30 doulas in the Black Doula Collective and it plans to double that number by the end of the year. For more information on the collective’s services, click here.

For more information on the Iowa Department of Public Health program, click here.