The U.S. faces a severe maternal health crisis with devastating impacts on the health and well-being of birthing parents across the country. Compared to other high-income countries, women in the United States are more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. A driving factor behind the high mortality rate is the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous women who experience pregnancy-related complications and death. What’s more, the CDC estimates that over 80% of maternal deaths in the U.S. are preventable.
Doula care, where trained professionals provide guidance and support along the birthing journey, is gaining prominence in the mainstream as an effective way to improve maternal health care for birthing parents in the United States and globally. Doulas have been a source of birthing care for pregnant people for centuries, but only in the past few decades have doulas seen broader recognition in the healthcare industry and government.
While doulas commonly provide in-person care before, during, and after births, virtual doula support has been increasing in popularity along with the rise of digital health. To investigate whether virtual doula care can have a positive effect on outcomes experienced by birthing parents, Maven recently conducted a study into the impact of digital doula utilization on C-section and birth experience outcomes.
Read on to learn more about how virtual doula care improves birth experiences and reduces C-section rates, helping to lower cost of care for employers, health plans, and employees.
Understanding the role doulas play in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum
A doula is a trained professional who provides emotional and physical support to birthing parents during childbirth and the postpartum period. Doulas are not medical professionals and do not provide medical care; rather, they offer information and advocacy to help pregnant people navigate the healthcare system, make informed decisions about their care, and understand their options throughout pregnancy.
During virtual appointments, doulas may help pregnant people create a birth plan, discuss birth positions and breathing techniques, educate patients so they can advocate for themselves during the birthing process, and more.
“Doulas are so important because we help educate birthing parents,” says Blue Andrew, Maven Care Advocate and Doula at Brooklyn Birth. “We normalize advocating for yourself and having ownership and autonomy over one’s body, which many people don’t experience as part of their birthing process. Doulas are there to carry and support parents through one of the most vulnerable times of their lives.”
Maven’s research in virtual doula care and its impact on outcomes
As the world’s largest virtual clinic for women and families, Maven is well-positioned to examine the effects that digital doula care can have on birth outcomes. In Maven’s recent study, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, our clinical research team examined the impact that virtual doula care has on C-section rates and birth experiences.
Virtual doula care reduces C-section rates
Maven’s research found that members with a prior C-section saw a reduced risk of C-section after one meeting with a doula. Other members experienced a reduced risk of C-section after two or more doula appointments.
Those who met with a doula two times or more reduced the odds of C-section by nearly 20% for all members. For those who met with a doula two or more times and have had a prior C-section, the impact was even greater: more than 60% of these members saw reduced odds of C-section.
The positive effects of doula care are also reflected among Black Maven users specifically. Black members who met with a doula at least twice on Maven had nearly 60% decreased odds of C-section, compared to Black members who did not meet with a doula.
These findings show us that virtual doula care is effective and can reduce risk of C-section by a comparable amount to that seen with in-person doula care.
Virtual doula care improves birth experiences
Maven’s research also found that meeting with a doula on the Maven platform increased our members’ likelihood of reporting a better birth experience. We defined “better birth experience” based on the following factors:
- Feeling like they had support in deciding a delivery preference
- Learning medically accurate information
- Feeling like they received a high level of emotional support
- Better managing their mental health
Members reported greater birth experience outcomes if they met with a doula two or more times, compared to those who met a doula once or no times.
Why does this research matter?
Removing barriers to care
While in-person doula care can be incredibly impactful in improving outcomes for birth parents, financial and logistical barriers exist that may prevent people from accessing doula care. Digital doula care provided through a health plan or employer removes those barriers to care, making it more accessible to birthing parents regardless of income or location.
Maven’s research suggests that the in-person component of doula care may not be necessary to achieve positive birth outcomes and that prenatal support through the course of pregnancy, even when provided virtually, can drive comparable outcomes.
Reducing overall cost of care
With healthcare costs estimated to rise by 6% in 2024, reducing healthcare costs is a top priority for many employers and health plans. C-sections can be expensive for employees, health plans, and employers alike, with studies estimating that C-sections cost up to $6,000 more per person than vaginal births.
Maven’s research shows reduced odds of C-section when using virtual doula care, which in turn can generate cost savings. Employers and health plans looking to reduce cost of care going into 2024 would benefit from implementing virtual maternity care benefits that include doula support.
Improving health equity
Doula-supported births can be a powerful, yet underused, strategy to reduce some of the racial disparities in birth outcomes experienced by pregnant people in the U.S. Meeting with doulas on a digital health platform like Maven may be an effective way to reduce C-section births and improve the birth experience, especially among historically marginalized communities.
The findings from this study demonstrate that virtual doula care may be an effective method for reducing health inequities experienced between different racial groups.
How Maven cares for birthing parents
The study shows that digital health platforms like Maven can help improve outcomes through virtual doula care while reducing access barriers associated with in-person support.
Doulas are among the 30+ specialists that Maven members have unlimited access to as part of Maven’s Maternity & Newborn care program. Nearly two-thirds of Maven members who met with a doula also met with one or more providers on the platform, with the top three most-used providers being OB/GYNs, lactation consultants, and mental health providers. Through Maven, members seeking in-person support throughout labor and postpartum can also access referrals to doulas in their community.
To learn more about how Maven provides better care for parents-to-be and parents as they navigate their family journey, contact us today.
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