Milwaukee is planning to provide doulas to 100 new mothers in one of the most troubled neighborhoods in the city.
A proposal is making its way through the city and Milwaukee County to spend $52,000 to develop the pilot program that would improve birth and maternal health outcomes in Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code, said Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey.
"I was born and raised in the 53206 zip code and have seen firsthand the lack of maternal health resources available to mothers and their newborns and its effects," Rainey said. "This legislation will not only help empower women and give them the necessary resources for a healthy pregnancy, but build a healthier, stronger Milwaukee."
The program is part of a statewide initiative called "Healthy Women, Healthy Babies," being led by Gov. Tony Evers. Evers' budget proposal included $28 million aimed at improving women’s health and infant care. The plan would also include $618,700 for doula training and Medicaid coverage for doula services.
Doulas provide physical and emotional support, and advocacy for women and their partners during and after the birthing process. Doula services have shown to lessen stress and anxiety, reduce cesarean surgery rates and support higher rates of breastfeeding, according to the Wisconsin Doulas of Color Collective.
Unlike obstetricians, nurses and midwives, doulas do not give medical advice or have clinical duties.
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Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said the pilot program would empower women, improve maternal health and give more babies in Milwaukee a strong start for healthy lives.
"An example of better health outcomes through increased pregnancy and birth support is higher rates of breastfeeding," Dimitrijevic said. "Breastfeeding and strong maternal health have a direct impact on reducing infant mortality."
Milwaukee's health department would be responsible for administering the program. Milwaukee County would be responsible for funding the program and marketing it to eligible low-income women.
Deanna Tharpe, director of operations and the Wisconsin Doulas of Color Collective, has been a doula since 2011.
She said most doulas do the work pro-bono because they love the mission.
"Women of color are three to four times more likely to die during child birth, and their babies are as well," Tharpe said. "We need to continue to bring awareness of doulas. Having doulas in the 53206 zip code can help lessen the stress of moms."