Breaking News
More () »

'Black babies are the most at risk' | Michigan program strives to support healthy outcomes for mothers and babies

The How YOU Birth Doula Initiative just received nearly $200,000 in funding for their mission to make childbirth more enjoyable, safe and equitable.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — A Muskegon county program is focused on reducing health disparities for Black and Brown mothers and their babies. 

The How YOU Birth Doula Initiative just received nearly $200,000 in funding for their mission to make childbirth more enjoyable, safe and equitable. The community-based program aims to pair doulas with families that need them the most.

"Black babies are the most at risk in our city right now," Executive Committee Chair Hillery Ross says. 

In Muskegon county, infant mortality is four times higher among children of color compared to White children. And in the U.S., Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy complications. 

"Racism is embedded into the system. and it's something that we operate in, we function from not knowing, right?" Community Doula Coordinator Kimberley Sims says. "It's the implicit biases that are there that we don't necessarily address, we just keep the system rolling."

"We came up with the idea of training doulas, because our data shows that mothers that have doula care have better birth outcomes," Ross says. 

Doulas are professionals that offer physical, emotional and information support to mothers before, during and after child birth. 

"They're your best friends with the childbirth information," Sims says. t

Traditionally, this is an expensive option for families, but the state of Michigan recently expanded medicaid coverage to provide doula care access. 

"Right now, our families are those underinsured (and) uninsured, families that would not otherwise be able to afford this care," Ross says. 

Since May 1st, the program has trained its first 11 community doulas, and they're working to match 15 expecting families with them. 

"We want to make it enjoyable. We want to make it safe. We want to make sure that they have equitable care. We want to make sure that they're understanding their care," Ross says.

"We want to make sure that these women, they understand completely what it is they're going into. They understand every aspect of the decision that they're making, and that they're a part of that decision making. It's not just something that's given to them, that they feel like they have to participate in," Sims says. "I think that's where the trauma is inflicted, when you give me something that I have to become a part of, but I don't get to participate in what that looks like."

And with a new, nearly $200,000 dollar grant from the state, the program hopes to expand its staff and train at least 10 more doulas. 

"What we ultimately want is sustainability. We haven't started our first families yet, but we already know that this program is going to make a huge impact in Muskegon county, and we want to keep it going," Ross says. 

The team knows this care will have a positive, ripple effect in the community. 

"When we're empowering parents on the birth-end, on the very birth side of it, I know and I believe in my heart that you're going to see, on the other side is going to come out. They're going to be more involved in school, they're going to be more engaged in the child's education, they're going to be because the connection is going to be so much tighter even on the birth-end," Sims says.

Those interested in becoming a doula or accessing doula care are encouraged to email the organization or fill out a form on the website. They also hold virtual meetings on the first Monday of every month. 

Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@13onyourside.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Before You Leave, Check This Out