Jamaa Birth Village & Generate Health Awarded $1 Million to Help Make St. Louis a Safer Childbirth City

Studies indicate that increased access to doula care can improve numerous health outcomes for mothers and babies.

March 10, 2021 | 3 min reading time

Thanks to a $1 million grant from Merck for Mothers and the Yellow Chair Foundation, St. Louis has become one of nine Safer Childbirth Cities. The award was granted to Generate Health and Jamaa Birth Village to support the STL 360 Doulas Initiative, a new collaborative to expand access to doula care.  The new initiative is a partnership between Jamaa Birth Village, Generate Health, STL Doulas of Color Collective and Jesse Davis, MD, MBA, from Washington University the collaborative’s program evaluation provider.

Doulas are trained professionals that provide continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to women before, during, and after childbirth to help achieve the healthiest, most satisfying birth experience possible. The work of the doulas can provide a positive impact on the well-being of the entire family. “360 Doulas” refers to both the number of doulas trained and wraparound (360°) support that doulas provide. The unique model of childbirth education, nutrition, bodywork, and care helps ensure a totality of support is present. 

Studies indicate that increased access to doula care can improve numerous health outcomes for mothers and babies, lower healthcare costs, reduce cesarean sections, decrease maternal anxiety and depression, and even help to improve communication between many of the most vulnerable and pregnant women and their health care providers.

“We know that infant mortality is preventable and can be influenced by access to quality culturally appropriate and sensitive health and social services and education,” says Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis. “Doulas can play a key role in the health of the mother by improving the quality of and access to care for mother and infant, and address the socioeconomic conditions of the family. The City of St. Louis Department of Health is honored and grateful to have the opportunity to support life-saving work that addresses the systemic and structural issues that have resulted in disparate health outcomes for our most vulnerable and precious assets, mothers and infants.” 

The infant mortality rate in the City of St. Louis has consistently been in the lower 25% of counties in Missouri for approximately the past decade. Deaths per 1,000 live births between 2008 and 2018 was 9.8% for the city compared to 6.6% for the state. For African Americans during that time period, the rate was 13.7% compared to 4.5% for Caucasians. 

“STL 360 Doulas is committed to leading the change towards zero disparities in maternal health and increasing positive birth experiences for Black women by increasing access to Black Doulas in the St. Louis region,” says Tru Kellman, CPM, CD, CLC, Executive & Clinical Director at Jamaa Birth Village. “A robust network of doulas, paired with bold advocacy work, will allow St. Louis to fundamentally deconstruct, reimagine, and redesign our local maternal health system to respect African American pregnant people, promote healthy pregnancies, and foster positive childbirth experiences.”

“When we examine infant mortality in St. Louis, we find a clear example of a health equity crisis that must be addressed,” says Kendra Copanas, Executive Director of Generate Health. “The mortality rate for Black women is nearly three times that for White women. 
The Merck for Mothers grant will be instrumental in helping us address this crisis.” 

About Jamaa Birth Village
Jamaa Birth Village is a 501c3 non-profit Maternal Health organization located in Ferguson, Missouri serving the greater St. Louis metro area. Through its comprehensive and first of its kind “Equal Access Midwifery Clinic”, Jamaa Birth Village provides culturally based traditional and evidence-based Midwifery + Doula care, Perinatal Mental Health Care, Holistic Therapy, Spa Services, Childbirth Education, and more. Since 2015, Jamaa Birth Village has supported 500+ families with perinatal care. Their goal is to lower prematurity and the infant & maternal mortality/morbidity rates that are significantly higher for Black women through community led and woman centered care.

About Generate Health
Generate Health mobilizes and inspires the St. Louis region to advance racial equity in pregnancy outcomes, family well-being, and community health.  Generate Health accelerates change by understanding their community’s needs, educating service providers and community leaders, advocating for positive policy change, and mobilizing the St. Louis region around the most pressing maternal and child issues.

About STL Doulas of Color Collective
STL Doulas of Color Collective is a group of non-clinical professionals, trained in childbirth, who provide emotional, physical, and educational support to mothers who are expecting, experiencing labor, or have recently given birth. The Collective is trained and skilled to support all births in all types of birth settings and experienced in providing mothers with unique and personalized, culturally aware care.

About Merck for Mothers 
Safer Childbirth Cities was launched in 2018 by Merck for Mothers, Merck’s $500 million global initiative to help create a world where no woman has to die while giving life. The multi-
year effort aims to foster community-led solutions that will help cities become safer, more equitable places to give birth. The second cohort is building on an inaugural cohort of ten community-based organizations working in coalition with unique collaborators to improve maternal health in their cities based on locally-identified needs and advance evidence-informed interventions to increase maternal health equity.

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