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Building a community of doulas in Milwaukee

Dalvery Blackwell
A group poses at an event hosted by the African American Breastfeeding Network.

Black women are three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes. In Wisconsin, Black women are five times more likely, making the state’s Black infant and maternal mortality among the highest in the country.

Locally, the WeRISE Community Doula program is trying to change that. The program is working to train more people to become doulas who can support Black and brown pregnant people. Doulas are not medical professionals, but are people who provide guidance and support to pregnant people before, during and after labor.

Dalvery Blackwell, a co-founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network, emphasizes that training more community doulas is vital. "The WeRISE Community Doula program works with community-based doulas. As we know, doulas offer critical support throughout pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum period. They are essential to the health and well-being of all birthing people and mothers," she says.

Women who hire doulas are found to have a better birthing experience over all, Blackwell continues. Benefits can include being happier with the birth outcome and being more likely to initiate breastfeeding.

Blackwell says WeRISE is working on a way to remove some of those systematic barriers that bar women from having positive experiences during birth. Primarily, they are trying to get doulas covered under the state health insurance so that they can be affordable for all birthing people. At this time, doulas are not covered, only midwives.

"Right now, we can only cover the doulas through our funding, which is the postpartum period that is two months. There's legislation and policies, initiatives throughout the state and through Sen. Tammy Baldwin's office to extend postpartum care up to 12 months, which is so critical," says Blackwell.

The African American Breastfeeding Network is not only trying increase access to doulas, but they are also aiming to make the field more sustainable for people who want to become doulas.

One of the ways that WeRise is supporting this space is by collaborating with Milwaukee County Health & Human Services and WIC, Blackwell acknowledges.

"I think it's very important that we continue to lift and honor the birth space through community-based doula model. I think in this space that we're working in, and with the disparities and the maternal mortality and all of the other health issues that Black and brown families face, it's important that doulas build the framework of collective work and responsibility" she says.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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