Pennsylvania lawmakers push to expand access to doulas to improve Black maternal health

An alarming number of Black women are dying during and after childbirth. Now, there’s a new push in Harrisburg to save lives by expanding access to doula services.

Iyanna Bridges is a mom of four and has been a doula for six years. She started the Birthing Hut and now helps train people to become doulas.

“We are dying from things that could have been caught. That is sad,” Bridges said. “All over the country, our hospitals are not taking care of our mothers. We don’t feel safe.”

Bridges said her last pregnancy, which inspired her to become a doula, was traumatic.

“I birthed at home by myself in order to prevent from dying in a hospital. That’s a conundrum in and of itself because you can die at home,” she said.

Bridges said doula services in Pennsylvania typically range between $1,200 and $1,500, and the cost is often a barrier. She’s had expectant mothers inquire about her services but not move forward because of their inability to pay.

Health advocates say the involvement of a doula leads to fewer birth complications, which Black and Latina women are disproportionately impacted by, in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S.

The Shapiro Administration just announced an expansion of access to doula care in the state through a change in Medicaid. The change aims to make doula services more accessible to low-income families by allowing doulas to enroll as Medicaid providers. Doulas must be certified by the Pennsylvania Certification Board to enroll.

“That’s major. This is a huge win and victory for moms all across the Commonwealth,” said State Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes. “For some people, the doula is the only person they have to support them.”

Mayes represents Allegheny County and co-chairs the Pennsylvania Black Maternal Health Caucus. The group of lawmakers introduced a legislative package last week called the Pennsylvania Momnibus.

“From our urban core to our suburban areas to our rural parts of the Commonwealth, this impacts all of us,” said Rep. Mayes, who became a mom, along with her partner in 2023.

“Baby Charlotte, also known as Queen Charlotte the Second, has really motivated and intensified my fight for health care access for maternal health in particular,” Mayes said.

The Momnibus package includes bills aimed at addressing maternal health deserts in the state, access to blood pressure monitors at home and mental health services for expecting mothers and postpartum mothers.

When asked if there is enough bipartisan support to pass the pieces of legislation Mayes said, “We have no other choice but to be successful… because Black moms are dying. That’s what it comes down to. They’re dying at two to two to three times the rate of white women. And 92 percent of Black maternal deaths in this Commonwealth are preventable. They don’t have to happen.”

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