They say it takes a village to plan, grow, and raise a family. Birthing parents seek help from their primary care provider, OB-GYN, friends, and family throughout their family-building journey, but specialty care providers can also play an outsized role pre- and postpartum. Doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, care advocates, mental health providers, fertility awareness coordinators, and others provide essential services to birthing parents, improving outcomes and enhancing the pregnancy experience. Let’s take a closer look at why we need specialty care providers—and what roles they play in the family-building journey.
Lack of resources leads to negative outcomes
The United States has some of the worst maternal morbidity and mortality rates across developed countries. These sobering statistics can be attributed, in part, to the care that expecting parents receive pre- and post-pregnancy, which can vary significantly based on race, location, and other factors.
- 5 million women are living in maternity care deserts, where they have limited or no access to maternity health care services.
- BIPOC parents have higher maternal mortality, increased rates of preterm births, infants with lower birth weights, and increased rates of postpartum depression.
Maternity care can take a village. But for many birthing parents today, the traditional maternity care protocols don’t address all their needs. Historically marginalized communities are especially affected by these gaps in healthcare, leading to worse outcomes for birthing parents and their babies. As employers build and refine their family benefits ecosystem, it’s important to offer robust support for the complexities of planning, growing, and raising a family.
Specialty care improves patient experience and outcomes
Traditional guidelines suggest birthing parents require 12 to 14 in-person prenatal visits, but this model does not serve the unique needs of low- and high-risk patients, and it doesn’t accommodate the shift to virtual care spurred by COVID-19. Today, expecting parents are using a blend of in-person and virtual visits to receive pre- and post-natal care, but are looking for support beyond what is offered as a part of their standard prenatal visit or as a part of their medical insurance coverage. Some necessary treatments, like surrogacy or fertility support for LGBTQ+ parents, aren’t covered by insurance at all, making employer-backed access to these specialists even more important.
Specialty care providers—like midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and physical therapists—can work with birthing parents to provide targeted culturally-humble care, either in-person or virtually, to improve outcomes like lowering C-section and preterm birth rates, reducing miscarriages, and increasing breastfeeding rates.
Understanding the vast range of specialty care providers
There are a multitude of specialty care providers who can support birthing parents through planning, growing, and raising a family. Some common providers that parents may turn to for support include:
According to CE Durfee, MSN, CNM, ARNP, CLC, CD(DONA), “doulas used to be called ‘labor coaches’, but their role extends beyond labor. A doula can tell growing families about the birth process, policies and procedural norms at their planned birthing location, and offer insight in addition to their birth support-specific expertise.”
Through supporting birth parents through the pregnancy and birth process, doulas help to improve outcomes for both parent and child by:
- Teaching parents how to advocate for themselves: Empowering new parents to advocate for themselves in clinical settings is crucial to positive health outcomes. Doulas can act as trusted advisors and advocates to encourage expecting parents to seek help when necessary and to speak up about their experiences, which can be especially valuable in reducing the impacts of medical racism.
- Providing better healthcare outcomes: Through their emotional support and advocacy, doulas can help drive better outcomes for birthing parents in almost any clinical setting. Studies have found that doula-supported individuals are less likely to have a C-section and give birth to a newborn who requires immediate medical attention after birth.
- Acclimating parents in the ‘fourth trimester’: Doulas can support new families after birth with things like sleep, feeding, and even changing a diaper. They can share information, help parents understand what they’re feeling and experiencing, and make recommendations when they should seek clinical care.
Lactation consultants are care providers who are specially trained and educated in the clinical practice of breastfeeding. “Lactation consultants work with a new parent to determine what their breastfeeding goals are, and then we educate, support, and help them get there,” says Kathy Parkes, MSN-ED, BSPsy, RN, IBCLC, RLC, FILCA. “We provide information so parents can make informed decisions, and we can provide support for whatever that decision is.”
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding with solid food for at least two years. However, research suggests that 60% of breastfeeding parents stop breastfeeding earlier than desired, whether it’s because they’re experiencing pain during lactation, they fear negative outcomes for their or their baby’s health, or they don’t have a comfortable place to breastfeed after returning to work.
Lactation consultants in postpartum settings can improve breastfeeding outcomes across the board. Consultants have been shown to increase both the number of women who start breastfeeding, as well as the percentage of women who exclusively breastfeed versus supplementing with formula. By providing advice, support, and educational resources that are vetted and verified, lactation consultants can execute early interventions for issues like pain, mastitis, and inflammation before they get worse.
Midwives are trained experts in women’s health and pregnancy care who can provide a wide range of health services, including annual checkups, birth control, and menopause care. “The word midwife means ‘with women,’ so as midwives, we guide women through their health journeys and share in that journey with them,” says Beth Przybylski, CNM, WHNP. “We serve as primary care providers for women who have started their periods, all the way up through the end of menopause.”
By working with a midwife, birthing parents receive comprehensive, culturally-humble care during their family-building journey and beyond. Midwives can make an impact by:
- Improving outcomes for mother and baby: Studies have found that midwives support more births without the aid of medication, fewer obstetric interventions, and fewer negative outcomes to the baby. Midwives have also been shown to increase the likelihood of vaginal birth and reduce C-section rates, and women who work with midwives are less likely to experience preterm birth and infant death.
- Increasing education and empowerment during pregnancy: Many women in the U.S. did not receive comprehensive sex education and are often navigating their pregnancy, birth, and post-birth journeys without science-backed information about the processes. Midwives can serve as a trusted, accessible source of information for birthing parents, educating them on the birth process and health implications.
When joining Maven Clinic, every member is assigned a dedicated Care Advocate. These care providers are responsible for coordinating a member’s care throughout their journey on the platform, answering their questions, making referrals to providers on the platform and in-person, building a personalized care plan that addresses their unique needs, and conducting proactive check-ins and interventions for members as needed. Maven’s Care Advocates combine healthcare expertise with compassion and care, and are trained in every aspect of our members’ health plans, as well as local nuances and regulations.
Care Advocates support members by:
- Serving as a trusted ally and source of information: Maven Care Advocates focus on building trust with members, getting to know their lives, their families, and their needs. They act as sources of truth, allies, and trusted friends throughout the process, so members always have someone to talk to about their health.
- Providing personalized care and genuine advocacy: Care Advocates conduct routine check-ins with members throughout their journey, whether they’re undergoing fertility treatments, pursuing surrogacy, navigating pregnancy, or raising their children. Care Advocates are also acutely aware of each member’s risk category, offering advice, content, and checking in on members based on their needs.
- Educating members about procedures, benefits, and timelines: Meetings with Care Advocates provide members with ample opportunities to ask questions, seek advice, and understand where they’re at in their journey. Trained in every aspect of the member’s benefits and health plan, the Care Advocate recommends in-person providers, Maven specialty providers, partnered clinics, labs, and more, and books appointments on the member’s behalf. 75% of high-risk members say, "Maven helped me learn medically accurate information about pregnancy and/or complications," and 55% of members report a better understanding of early warning signs.
Other specialty care providers that can support the family-building journey
- Career coaches, who help members navigate the workforce before and after giving birth
- Fertility awareness educators, who work with birthing parents to understand their fertility cycle and enable natural conception methods
- Mental health providers and specialists who provide members necessary mental health treatment before, during, and after pregnancy
- Parent coaches, who work with parents to address any questions related to parenting their children
- Pediatric sleep coaches, who work with parents to help babies get into a healthy sleep routine
- Special education advocates, who work on the behalf of families to obtain appropriate special education services
- And more
Partner with Maven to improve your family building journey
Specialty care providers like doulas, Care Advocates, infant sleep coaches, lactation consultants, midwives, and more contribute to the modern maternal care journey. Their inclusion in care plans for expecting parents can drive better outcomes for all, and ensure families can start on firm foundations for the future.
Maven offers families 24/7 access to a robust network of specialty providers through an easy-to-use telehealth platform that covers everything from prenatal care and fertility to maternity and postpartum care. To find out how Maven can help families in your organization, contact us today.
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