The health of a baby at birth can have a lasting impact on his or her development, learning, and behavior, ultimately impacting success in school and beyond. Birthweight is one key measure of how healthy a newborn is, and in Kent County, Black babies are more than twice as likely as White babies to be born at a low birthweight.
A healthy birthweight is at least five-and-a-half pounds. Newborns weighing less than that can be at increased risk of delays, particularly in early literacy development and math. The most recent data from 2018 show low birthweight for nearly eight percent of all births in Kent County – or about 680 babies. That includes: 6.4% of White babies, 8.8% of Hispanic/Latinx babies, and 15.3% of Black babies. *Source: KConnect Data Dashboard
Research shows a wide array of factors influence birthweight, including lack of medical care and/or insurance, the health of the mother, racism, culturally-insensitive care, and social determinants of health such as lack of adequate housing, living wages, and nutritious food.
Kent County has a new strategy to reduce the racial disparities in birth outcomes: community-based doulas of color. Highly-trained doulas that are of and from the same community as their clients will provide support and education prenatally through the birth and postpartum period. It is an evidence-based, culturally responsive strategy that has led to positive outcomes in other communities, including reduced infant mortality and increases in healthy birthweights and breastfeeding. Additionally, it helps diversify the healthcare workforce through training and support of Black and Latinx doulas.
"Our community is showing a commitment to a vision that places women of color at the center of all care provided and also gives these women, a platform to be heard, to make an impact," said Kiara Baskin, Program Manager for Day One Doula Collective. "This program becoming a reality means that we’ve listened, we will continue to listen, and we're doing the work to address the disparities we see in populations of color.
Baxter Community Center is the host site of the pilot project that launched in August and is expected to serve about 275 mothers and babies a year. This birth equity strategy was developed through a collaboration between KConnect, First Steps Kent, the Essential Needs Task Force, and Strong Beginnings, along with local doulas and other community partners. Heart of West Michigan United Way is the fiscal sponsor for the pilot, and technical assistance will be provided by HealthConnect One. Steelcase Foundation and the Michigan Health Endowment Fund have provided a total of $190,000 in grants for the pilot.