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A new bill works to expand access to postpartum care

Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

A bill to expand access to postpartum care clears the House Health and Human Development Committee.

A law signed last summer requires doula services to be covered by Medicaid in the First State.

A new bill introduced by House Majority Leader, State Rep. Melissa Minor Brown (D-New Castle) aims to expand that law, requiring Medicaid to cover additional postpartum doula visits recommended by a licensed healthcare provider.

Medicaid currently covers three postpartum doula visits.

Data from the CDC shows that 53% of pregnancy related deaths measured over 2 years occurred 7 days to 1 year after pregnancy.

Minor-Brown says doulas can help prevent those deaths

“So that extra set of eyes with the doula being present allows for early warning signs to be identified," said Minor-Brown. "Sometimes moms may experience cardiovascular issues, postpartum depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and many other unfortunate symptoms.”

HB345 would allow doulas more time with a patient to flag those warning signs and prevent adverse outcomes.

State Rep. DeShanna Neal (D-Elsmere/Newport) says their doula worked with them through a 36 hour birth and helped save their life postpartum.

“She recognized that something was wrong with my heart. And if it wasn’t for her monitoring me, they would have never caught the blood clot that was in my leg from laying in bed for 36 and a half hours,” they explained.

Neal is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Healthcare and advocacy organizations statewide support the bill, including the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Elaine Ansah is their policy coordinator.

“Doulas are wonderful community partners who allow a parent to feel less alone and build up a relationship of trust," said Ansah. "For domestic violence survivors, access to doulas can make a real difference in both their health and the health of their children. Access to doulas can also make a positive change in their mental health, feelings of isolation, and feeling more comfortable and supported in leaving an abusive relationship.”

Black women make up a disproportionate amount of pregnancy-related deaths.

In 2019, Black women made up only 28% of Delaware live births, yet they represent 78% of pregnancy-related fatalities between 2017-2021.

Work is being done in the First State to address the racial disparities in maternal mortality, and advocates like the YWCA agree that this bill will help in that mission.

Becca Cotto is the Director of the Racial and Social Justice Program at YWCA Delaware. She says the racial disparities in Delaware’s birth outcomes are shameful.

“A postpartum doula provides evidence-based information such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery after birth, mother-baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care,” said Cotto. “Research shows that moms, dads, and babies have an easier time with this transition when there’s a good support team in place. Doulas are essential to many communities.”

The bill cleared committee with bipartisan support. A majority of the present committee members, including State Reps. Baumbach, Harris, Heffernan, Hilovsky, K. Johnson, and Michael Smith, were added as co-sponsors after the hearing.

It now heads to the House floor.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.