Doulas: The key to saving infants’, moms’ lives

There is a health crisis in mid-Michigan.
Updated: May. 16, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT
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SAGINAW, Mich. (WNEM) - There is a health crisis in mid-Michigan. For the past 30 years, Saginaw County has experienced some of the highest infant mortality rates. Leading to the state of Michigan being among the top 10 states in the country with a high rate of infant deaths.

“We have for years had the highest infant mortality rate in the state,” said Dr. Delicia Pruitt, medical director for the Saginaw County Health Department. “We really didn’t know why we’re having these mortality rate problems. I mean, this has been going on for years.”

Infant mortality is the death of a baby before they reach their first birthday. In 2021, Saginaw County’s rate topped 12.9 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births.

“The reason why babies die is it’s usually like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That could be birth defects. It could be because like for instance, low preterm birth injuries or maternal complications. So there can be all these reasons why you could have infant mortality. So we have to figure out why and what the cause of it is,” Pruitt said.

Anesha Stanley, owner of Full Circle Doula Services, said infant mortality rates are an indication of the overall health of a community.

“It also just speaks to the lack of health care and the access to health care for a lot of birthing persons in our region,” Stanley said.

Pruitt and Stanley are working to decrease the number of infant deaths in the county.

“We need to connect our moms with services. We also need to connect our moms with their medical community. Sometimes there could be access problems. Sometimes there can be a disconnect between moms and the doctors,” Pruitt said. “I believe that patients should be told about doulas because I believe right now there’s not enough education about them to even...for them to even know that they could have an advocate.”

“We want mom and baby to be home safely,” Stanley said.

They believe the addition of a doula service to a pregnancy will not only help infant mortality rates but maternal mortality rates as well; which will help bring the county and state’s numbers down for both.

“Maternal complication is one of the causes for infant mortality and so if a mom is in like severe distress and then the baby then could have some distress too,” Pruitt said.

Stanley said a doula is a support person.

“They are a professional resource in the community that provides consistent and continual support for birthing persons,” Stanley said.

Stanley has been a certified doula for three years. She not only provides emotional support, birth planning, and education regarding newborn care, nutrition, and safety. She has also helped families navigate the loss of a pregnancy.

“Statistically, it is shown that doulas do help with the outcomes of birth, also doulas are able to provide that continual support, that social support that is missing,” Stanley said. “A lot of the support that I provide my clients is not only for labor but also during birth, in preconception support. Also, postpartum support as well.”

Seeing the benefits of having a doula, state leaders approved a policy to have Medicaid reimburse doulas for their services. Hoping to not only bring down infant mortality rates but maternal mortality rates as well.

“You should not be dying, having a baby, in this country. And so you need an advocate for you. And sometimes I found that when you’re sick, you just don’t have enough in you to fight for yourself,” Pruitt said.

In Michigan, 80 to 90 maternal deaths occur each year. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 50 percent of those deaths could have been prevented. Especially for women and babies in the Black community, who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues compared to white women and babies.

“We need a pipeline from Saginaw, people from Saginaw who want to be doctors to come back to Saginaw and be doctors and treat people from their own communities. Not to say that other people can’t but when people look like you and understand you and are from your culture, it may be a little easier conversation to understand and to work with you. Now, that doesn’t mean that people from other cultures can’t work with you, but it may be a little bit easier,” Pruitt said.

Doulas have been shown to reduce the number of C-sections, duration of labor, and infection rates.

“One thing that I do with my clients is we have a debriefing after every doctor’s appointment that they have, we’re going to talk about the benefits and the risks. We’re going to talk about their intuition, any alternatives or is there anything that they can do to better understand what their physician is suggesting for their pregnancies,” Stanley said.

Doulas have also helped improve APGAR scores, which rate how well a baby is doing within the first one to five minutes of life which in turn affects infant mortality rates.

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