Taking control of their birthing experience

Bri Bryant holds her daughter, Audri, while doula Dominique Cribb of Petit Coeur Birthing looks on. Audri was born at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center on Oct. 11.

More Black mothers turning to doulas for childbirth help

Fear of the Black maternal death rate is driving Black expectant mothers to hire a doula to assist with childbirth.

Doulas function as the expectant mother’s birthing assistant by offering emotional, physical and educational sup- port; they do not provide medical advice. They typically offer prenatal visits and help the birthing individual and their partner write a birthing and postpartum plan.

“I [felt] like I [needed] this extra support person along-side me in this birthing experience to make sure things [went] right,” said Bri Bryant, a model and actress from Highland City near Lakeland. “I hired a doula to ensure I had the type of birthing experience I wanted, with extra support and assistance.” 

Although research is limited, according to the Mayo Clinic “some studies have shown that continuous support from doulas during childbirth might be associated with a decreased use of pain relief medication during labor, a decreased incidence of C-sections, a decrease in length of labor, and a decrease in negative childbirth experiences.”

Bryant learned about doulas through an influencer she follows online. She hired Dominique Cribb of Petit Coeur Birthing in Tampa. She knew Cribb and felt comfortable with her. 

“She provided a prenatal visit with help on exercises and resources of things I could do to make my pregnancy journey/ birth go smoother,” Bryant explained. 

Bryant said Cribb suggested she partake in prenatal yoga, and recommended teas, exercises, and foods she should eat to assist with labor.

“I think this really impacted my experience in a great way and was worth it. She definitely helped make my pregnancy and birthing experience better with her tips and support,” Bryant said. 

The assistance Cribb provided during labor was reminding her to breathe during contractions and helping her use an exercise ball during labor. 

“Overall, it was a beautiful experience. I felt like it went good having the extra support there and a birthing plan that I got to stick to for the most part,” Bryant said. “If I could do it all over again, I would get a doula for sure.”

Reducing the death rate

Cribb owns Petit Coeur Birthing and travels between Tampa and Dallas, helping expectant mothers in the delivery room. She started her business in 2021 and said one of  her goals is reducing the black maternal death rate. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.

Cribb believes Black women may have more issues during childbirth because of the misconception by some in the medical field that Black individuals do not feel pain. She said this leads medical professionals to believe Black women are “overreacting,” or fabricating symptoms which leads them to ignore Black women’s concerns, prescribe lower doses of medicine than needed or mis-diagnoses. 

“Take for example pre-eclampsia and postpartum depression; these are commonly ignored within the Black community… Pre-eclampsia is deadly,” Cribb explained. “During childbirth, we may say things are wrong or do not feel right, and if you do not have support or proper guidance or know how to advocate for your- self or your partner, those cries can be taken as just overreacting or being too needy.”

Like many doulas, Cribb helps her clients learn about different birthing positions, pain relieving techniques and communication strategies. One of those strategies is to request that doctors putin their charts any concerns they may have that they feel aren’t being addressed.

“If a doctor ignores you and what you are telling them, tell them to put what you talked about in the appointment in your chart and ask for a copy. This leaves a paper trail so if something happens, they are held accountable,” Cribb said.

She also recommends requesting doctors ask for verbal consent before performing exams.

“You can always say no or not at this time. Too many cervical checks can lead to infection and complications during labor,”Cribb explained. 

Cribb also assists her client’s labor partners with how to give physical and emotional support to their partner in labor, as well as assisting them with communicating with doctors or nurses who may be in the room.

“Most importantly, we do not replace your partner if applicable; we help them. Doulas help address and diminish fears or worries. We go on call 24/7  between 37- and 38-weeks’ gestation until birth,” Cribb said. “We answer questions or concerns, explain to the extent of what we know without medical advice. We make sure you and your family feel safe, informed, loved and supported.” 

Your birth, your choice

One thing Cribb harps upon with her clients is that they have the right to make choices throughout the birthing process. 

“They can say no, change doctors, ask questions [and] take control of their births. My goal is to present a sense of security, safety and serenity in the birthing environment,” Cribb said.

Cribb also assists with breast-feeding and making sure the mother’s first latch is successful.

That’s another area where Black women lag white women according to statistics. Among all infants, Black infants had a significantly lower rate of any breastfeeding at age 3 months (58.0%) than did white infants (72.7%), according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey conducted in 2015.

The survey found that “Black mothers disproportionately experience a number of barriers to breastfeeding, including lack of knowledge about breastfeeding; lack of peer, family, and social support; insufficient education and support from health care set- tings; and concerns about navigating breastfeeding and employment.”

One of the downsides of doulas is they come with a hefty price and may not be covered by health insurance. Bryant paid $500, a discounted price since she was one of the first births Cribb assisted with. Cribb typically charges between $650-$1400 depending on the types of services the mother needs. Bryant was also able to make multiple payments.

“I had money set aside for baby things and decided it was something I wanted to invest in,” Bryant said. 

Closing the gap

But many expectant mothers aren’t as fortunate as Bryant. The brand Baby Dove has started a Black Birth Equity Fund to help close the maternal care gap, dedicating $250,000 initially for grants to be given to Black expectant mothers and birthing individuals for “life-saving support through doula services.”

“At Baby Dove, we believe Black moms have the right to superior care at every step of their journey. But for too long, Black moms have not received  the care they deserve, and the consequences are significant -- we are committed to helping change that,” said Sally Brown, a global brand director for Baby Dove.

According to a news release, the one-time grants are up to $1,300. Black pregnant mothers have until the end of the year to apply. The fund’s website suggests finding a doula through the National Black Doula Association.

The fund had only been around for a few weeks when Bryant delivered her daughter, and she didn’t know about it. She said it sounded like a great idea. 

“I love the brand so the fact that they are doing something positive to impact /help the Black community’s birthing experience (something I feel strongly about) is an amazing thing,” Bryant said. 

Cribb said word of the Black Birth Equity Fund is spreading in the doula community.

“I think what Dove is doing by offering grants to help pay for doula services is amazing. I am now hearing and reading about birthing individuals who are BIPOC receiving the grants,” Cribb said.

MORE INFORMATION

Black Birth Equity Fund: www.dove.com/us/en/baby/more-from-baby- dove/about-baby-dove/black-birth-equity-fund.html

Petite Coeur Birthing: https://www.petitcoeurbirthing.com/

National Black Doula Association: https://www.blackdoulas.org/

Dona International: https://www.dona.org/what-is-a-doula/

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