MILWAUKEE — After the first year of the WeRise Community Doula Initiative, the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) reports positive birth outcomes for moms and babies.
Doulas are non-medical healthcare professional that provide support during prenatal visits, birth, and postpartum. WeRise provides doula’s to clients free of charge.
In the pilot year, the state-funded program served 90 birthing people in Southeastern Wisconsin by 25 Black doulas. Of those 90 births, 95% of babies were born at full-term and only five babies were admitted to the NICU.
Because of those outcomes, the WeRise program is moving into a new phase, focused on increasing referrals and recruiting even more doulas to help address maternal and child health disparities in Milwaukee.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Black babies are nearly three times more likely to die than white babies in Wisconsin.
“Our maternal and infant outcomes are some of the worst in the country and for what reason? We have a lot of Black people here and unfortunately racism and systemic racism and not being listened to and just so many reasons. It’s very unfortunate,” said WeRise Program Director Kiara Schott.
In a press conference on Tuesday, the AABN said many Black women often feel like their preferences or concerns are dismissed by their medical providers. Retona Wilson, a mother of two with another baby on the way, had that experience with her first two births. She descried the experiences as traumatic.
“The way I wanted to birth wasn’t working for my [doctors],” Wilson said. “I felt bullied so I was like maybe I should listen to what he’s saying because he’s a midwife and he knows better than I do.”
During both births she was told she needed a C-section. She said in the moment and looking back she felt like it wasn’t medically necessary for her but didn’t know how to advocate for herself.
“It was a very traumatic C-section because I felt it wasn’t medically necessary, in my case I felt like it wasn’t and the doctor was jut tired and she was like we’re just going to cut him out,” Wilson said.
She now expecting baby number three and wanted to take control of her birth experience. She was connected to a doula through the AABN WeRise Community Doula Initiative. She said it’s been a completely different experience, for the better.
“It’s different, because I feel like I actually have a voice this time. I let her know what I need, what I want,” Wilson said.
Rosalyn Perkins, a doula with WeRise, is working with Wilson during this pregnancy and advocating for the birth Wilson wants.
“Just understanding that this birth is different, you get to reclaim the birth space,” Perkins said. “We wanna make sure you’re preparing for birth and then also for postpartum and lactation.”
According to the National Institute of Health, doula-assisted mothers are less likely to have a baby with a low birth weight and are less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby.
“Doulas and birth workers make a difference. Breast feeding initiation rates are better with doulas, birthing people report better experiences and happier experiences when they’re birthing with a doula. We know cesareans rated decrease with birth workers and doulas. There are so many benefits,” said AABN Executive Director Dalvery Blackwell.