Mothers Are Dying During Childbirth at High Rates in the U.S.: Can Latine Doulas Help?

A woman in labor is being accompanied and supported by a Doula

The number of women who die due to complications during childhood is on the rise in the United States. Over 5.6 million women live in maternity care deserts - areas where access to maternity healthcare is limited or doesn’t exist at all. Other factors that contribute to maternal mortality are lack of proper prenatal care and pre-existing health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, among others.

Map of the United States illustrating disparities in maternity care within the healthcare system.Image by March of Dimes

For Latina mothers, one of the main factors contributing to maternal mortality is a lack of insurance and access to health care. According to a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Latina mothers were less likely to receive prenatal care compared to white mothers.

Moreover, racial disparities and systemic racism are major factors contributing to maternal mortality among women of color. According to a recent study, the actions of healthcare providers and their interactions with patients reveal an implicit bias for white women and discrimination against women of color.

Not only are women of color often dismissed regarding symptoms and concerns during pregnancy, but they’re also mistreated. A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 30% of Black women, 29% of Latina women, and 27% of multiracial women experienced mistreatment during pregnancy or birth, compared to 19% of white women.

Within this context, doulas are providing much-needed support to Latina mothers and empowering them through dedicated services.

The Reality of Latina Mothers

In an interview for BBC, Surey Rodriguez-Cortes, a certified doula, shed light on how Latino doulas are changing the field, which “has been composed predominantly of middle-class white women for decades.” Rodriguez-Cortes shared that she has seen a rise in the number of people of color entering doula work every year. Diversity in this field is essential because culture informs the way women approach birth and the decisions they make regarding things like pain management.

For Latina mothers, for example, labor pain is regarded as a motherly obligation, leading them to decline pain medication often. The fact is that traditions and beliefs affect the experience of giving birth, but healthcare providers often don’t consider them because of their biases and stereotypical beliefs about women of color.

There’s proof of consistent stigma and bias in maternity care for Latina women and women of color overall. That manifests through mistreatment like ignoring requests for help, dismissing symptoms of concerns, shouting or scolding, being forced to accept unwanted treatment, and more. For Latina women who don’t speak English, this mistreatment is even more likely.

Giving birth in the U.S., especially for women of color, can be a traumatic experience where mothers feel like they don’t have a voice. Latino doulas seek to change this reality for Latina mothers by providing an empowered birth and postpartum experience. Having a doula makes a big difference, especially if they can incorporate cultural practices, help eliminate language barriers, and provide guidance in navigating the challenges and disparities in the healthcare system.

The Impact of Culturally Competent Doulas

Doulas are trained professionals who provide emotional and physical support before, during, and after birth. The term “doulas” and “midwives” is often used interchangeably, but their roles are different. The main difference is that midwives provide medical care while doulas don’t.

The main role of the doula is to make the birthing experience as comfortable as possible through various methods, such as massages, position suggestions, advocacy, and more. In other words, a doula is a protector and a champion for mothers in the delivery room (or at home if mothers decide to have a home birth) and beyond.

What makes Latine doulas different is that they have the cultural background other doulas lack. This allows them to understand Latine mothers, their challenges, and their beliefs a lot better, so they can provide support with the necessary cultural considerations to get them the kind of birth they deserve.

Moreover, Latine doulas eliminate language barriers for mothers who don’t speak English and advocate for them, helping them navigate the healthcare system more effectively. Latine doulas ensure mothers don’t lose their voice at any step of the way, and they listen to their wishes to effectively communicate them to healthcare providers, acting as advocates for mothers.

Latine mothers who have worked with Latine doulas report a more positive birthing experience where they feel heard, protected, and comfortable. Given that they are greatly affected by maternal mortality, having a doula by their side can reduce many of the risks by ensuring that they’re listened to instead of dismissed and tended to instead of mistreated during one of the most consequential moments of their lives.

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