Supporting improved birth outcomes in Wisconsin with WeRISE Community Doula Program

Wisconsin’s Black maternal mortality rates and Black infant mortality rates are among the highest in the country.1 The WeRISE Community Doula Program, launched by the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN), is dedicated to decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates and improving the birth experience for pregnant and postpartum Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in Wisconsin.

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin is supporting the WeRISE Community Doula Program with a $10,000 grant to facilitate data sharing, increase access to trained doulas, align community services, and improve maternal-child health outcomes.

A look at the maternal/infant health crisis in Wisconsin 

  • In the United States, individuals who are Black are three times more likely than individuals who are white to die of pregnancy-related causes.2
  • In Wisconsin, the maternal mortality rate for individuals who are Black is five times greater than for non-Hispanic white individuals.1
  • The rate of infant deaths for babies who are Black in Wisconsin is nearly three times as high as for other babies and ranks highest of all 50 states.1

Why? Factors leading to higher Black maternal mortality rates include underlying chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, lack of quality prenatal and postpartum care, and the impact of racial inequities, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2

Wisconsin’s Black infant mortality rates are driven by an increasing number of premature births, existing racial inequities, and rising incidents of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to a 2021 study in the Journal of Perinatology.3

WeRISE doulas have already made a difference

The nonprofit AABN has been serving the greater Milwaukee community for 15 years. Their mission is to improve maternal-child health and to champion breastfeeding equity by advocating system policy changes and partnering with community-based, family-centered, culturally tailored health education and support services.  

The WeRISE Community Doula Program was recently created by the AABN to serve pregnant and postpartum BIPOC individuals residing in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties.

In its pilot year (2020-21), 25 doulas from the WeRISE Community Doula Program assisted 90 individuals giving birth. Of those 90 births, 85 were born at full-term and only five babies were admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).4

Doulas accompany patients to doctor visits, provide continuous labor and delivery support, and continue postpartum assistance with breastfeeding and newborn care education for three months. They also assist parents with family-centered childbirth classes and community resource referrals. Per the AABN, doula-assisted births result in lower medication use, reduced medical intervention, shorter labors and a more positive birth experience.  

Grant helps align social, behavioral and clinical services to an expanded doula network

The $10,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin will help fund the Maternity Neighborhood Database, which was developed to improve care coordination for patients, reduce duplication and streamline data exchange between health plans, providers and doulas.

Grant funds will also support the recruitment and training of twelve new community-based doulas. Workshops will build competencies in Lactation, Birthing from the Core, Labor Augmentation and Trauma Informed Care for Birth Workers.

To support BIPOC pregnant individuals, more BIPOC doulas will be recruited and trained to provide culturally responsive pregnancy and childbirth education and build connections to health care and social services.

Partnerships improve outcomes for all

Doula-assisted patients are less likely to have a baby with a low birth weight and are less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby.5

Assisting with prenatal, birthing and postpartum care, doulas can help reduce Cesareans, NICU admissions and trauma.5 Patients have happier birth experiences, and breastfeeding initiation rates improve.5 Fewer complications may also result in less intervention, shorter hospital stays and lower coverage costs.

By partnering with the AABN and their WeRISE Community Doula Program, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin is helping to fund innovation, align services, build equity for underserved populations, and improve maternal-infant health outcomes.

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