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Free doula program at Denver Health helps laboring moms

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a sharp rise in the maternal mortality rate. Women of color are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause. However, Denver Health is doing its part by providing services to those who need it most. Denver Health is seeing success with its free doula program, staffed by mostly volunteers.

One Denver-based company, Goldbug is helping with the ongoing effort to improve women's birth experiences.

Since 2019, Claudia Davis has been volunteering for Denver Health's Doula program.

"Time goes by really fast when I'm on the floor because I'm right there helping a woman with different techniques and so, a 12-hour shift can feel like it goes by like that," Davis said.

She volunteers two to three times a month and it can be a lot of work for the hours she puts in, but she believes it is important work.

"It's cost prohibitive to hire a private doula. It's kind of seen as a luxury when really it's a resource that positively impacts the outcomes for both mom and baby," Davis said.

Hiring a private doula can cost up to $1,000.

The financial restraints affect low-income people and people of color the most, but they're also the moms who'd benefit the most from these services.

"We know this isn't just a problem in Colorado, but a national health issue as well," said Sholeh Mirzai, chief merchandising officer for Goldbug.

By relieving the financial burden, the Denver Health program aims to improve maternal health and reduce disparities in birth outcomes for patients at the highest risk.

"I've labored with a lot of women who have immigrated to this country where their family is still back home, a lot of incarcerated women who are laboring completely alone and a lot of teen moms who kind of need someone as a guide that can demystify and explain some of the physiologic changes that are happening in their body," Davis said.

Goldbug began donating to the cause last year for retention, recruitment and stipends.

"What we've seen since making the donation to Denver Health's doula program, we've seen an increase in the number of doulas about 36% increase in doulas as well as an increase in BIPOC, black, indigenous, people of color, doulas. That's been about 150% increase since we started working with the program," Mirzai said. 

Denver Health doulas are specially trained volunteers. 

The long term goal of Denver Health's Doula Program is to diversify the doula community with adequate training to encourage volunteers to continue their career in the medial field. (For instance, we hold special trainings to educate them about medical terminology). 

Each month, Denver Health also offers meetings open to anyone in the community interested in becoming a doula about advanced labor support for Denver Health's diverse patient population (LGBTQ+, patients who are incarcerated, patients from different countries, etc.).

Studies show, doula care is associated with a reduction in the number of low birth weight babies, C-sections and increased rates of breastfeeding. 

According to Goldbug, C-sections at Denver Health have decreased by 14% since providing those mothers with doulas.

Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law on Wednesday, requiring requires the state department to seek federal authorization for Medicaid providers to provide doula services for pregnant and postpartum individuals.

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