UK HealthCare

Using Doula Services Can Reduce Maternal Mortality

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The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Mariann H. Hutti, Ph.D., women’s health nurse practitioner and professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 18, 2022) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released statistics on maternal mortality in the United States. These statistics show maternal deaths rose at an alarming rate, and large disparities continue when deaths in Black and white pregnant women are compared. Overall maternal mortality in the U.S. rose by 14% between 2019 and 2020 but increased by 26% among Black women. Mortality was three times higher in Black women compared to white women.

It is clear that Black families bear a disproportionate burden of devastating pregnancy outcomes. Currently, Black infants are more than twice as likely to die than white infants. In addition, more than 45,000 stillbirths or newborn deaths in the first week of life are reported each year, with Black women experiencing twice as many of these losses as white women. These statistics do not consider the hundreds of thousands of miscarriages that also occur in the U.S. each year but are not officially reported.

Kentucky also shares in this health care crisis. A recent Kentucky public health report found 78% of maternal mortality cases were considered preventable.

A doula is a lay (non-medical) birth support person who is trained in meeting the emotional and physical needs of the family during pregnancy, childbirth, and/or the postpartum period. Doulas offer practical, non-judgmental support, guidance and education.

Doula care is associated with these pregnancy benefits:

  • Shorter laboring
  • Less likely to need a C-section or have a preterm birth
  • Less likely to use an epidural or other pain medication during labor
  • Fewer uterine ruptures
  • Fewer hysterectomies after uterine rupture
  • Fewer maternal deaths

Doula support programs have been in existence for many years. Research indicates doula support programs are well-accepted by high-risk women from underserved communities. Pregnancy, postpartum and labor support by doulas is a cost-effective approach to providing better care to pregnant women and their babies in Kentucky.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.