Birth Equity, Born Healthy, Doulas
Birth Equity in Kent County
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 it consistently reveals significant disparities between White children and children of color. In Kent County, that gap has gotten even larger.
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 a low birthweight for:
- 6.4% of White babies,
- 8.8% of Hispanic/Latinx babies, and
- 15.3% of Black babies.
Those numbers are the highest they have been for Black and Hispanic/Latinx babies in the last six years and the lowest for White babies. It is unclear what has led to the slight uptick in low birthweight babies of color and too soon to know if it is a trend. 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.
Reducing those disparities has been an intentional focus of several community-based programs in Kent County, with positive results among the families they serve. A new birth equity strategy to complement that work is a community-based doula program that will target women 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. One of the most impactful aspects of this approach is that doulas provide continuous support to the expectant mother and her family throughout her entire labor and delivery.
The community-based doulas of color project was developed through a collaboration between KConnect, First Steps Kent, the Essential Needs Taskforce, and Strong Beginnings along with local doulas and other community partners. Baxter Community Center will be the host site of the program, and technical assistance will be provided by HealthConnect One. The partners are currently working to secure funding for a pilot project that could serve about 275 expectant mothers a year. It is an evidence-based, culturally responsive strategy that has led to positive outcomes in other communities, including decreased rates of infant mortality and Cesarean sections and increased rates of healthy birth weights and breastfeeding.
“I think one of the innovative pieces of the doulas of color project is that it honors the long cultural tradition of women supporting women through the experience of pregnancy and birth,” explained Anissa Eddie, Pritzker Fellow for Early Childhood. “This strategy also provides a direct response to systemic inequities faced by women of color. Peer to peer support can reduce racialized health disparities through the growth of trusting relationships and a commitment to empower expectant mothers as they advocate for holistic and equitable care.”
Partners are hoping to implement the pilot project later this year. More information about birth equity and other kindergarten readiness data can be found on the KConnect Data Dashboard.