Photo credit: Beth Grocott Photography

This is a paid piece from South Dakota Doulas.

Simplified: A nonprofit is working to bring prenatal, birthing and postpartum doula services to more people statewide by advocating for legislation to ensure these services are covered by Medicaid. Meet South Dakota Doulas.

Why it matters

  • South Dakota’s maternal mortality rate is nearly triple the national average – and it’s significantly worse for Native American women in the state. Research shows those outcomes – as well as the rate of other medical interventions during birth – can be improved with the help of a doula. 
  • The tough part is that hiring a doula can be cost-prohibitive for many families, which is why South Dakota Doulas is working with lawmakers to support legislation to provide medicaid coverage for doula services. That's where House Bill 1081 comes in.
  • If passed, the measure would mean families would be reimbursed for up to $1,000 in doula services, including prenatal, labor and delivery, or postpartum care.
"This is a stepping stone to having everybody be able to access doula support," said Renee Forred, owner of Transitions: Doula and Life Services. "We need to be able to extend this support to everybody – not just those who can pay privately."

Hang on, what is a doula?

A doula is a trained professional who provides physical, emotional and informational support for their clients before, during and after childbirth.

Doulas do things like:

  • helping a patient articulate their needs to a medical provider,
  • providing comfort measures and emotional support,
  • staying with the patient to offer help and evidence-based information.
"Doulas are an integral part of the safe and efficient care of our laboring patients," said Dr. Emily Abele, a Brookings OBGYN. "Doulas help patients with support during their labors which helps decrease anxiety and helps patients do effective position changes to help expedite their labor course."

Doulas do not give medical advice or diagnoses, and they also do not perform medical procedures or make decisions for patients.

Tell me more about how a doula can be helpful

According to a 2017 study, people who use a birth doula are

  • less likely to have cesarean section,
  • more likely to initiate breastfeeding,
  • less likely to have pre-term birth,
  • and less likely to have a postpartum mental illness.

Ali McCombs, a South Dakota mom, said having given birth both with and without a doula, her experience was much better with a doula present. She said her labor time was cut in half with a doula present.

"My second delivery could have arguably been more traumatic than my first since she had (a number of delivery complications)," McCombs said. "However, the delivery was calm, peaceful, and full of ease. Our daughter was born perfectly healthy, vaginally, with the doula's support."

What happens next?

The bill has been assigned to the House Health and Human Services committee for an initial hearing. It's not yet on the schedule, but is expected to be heard by lawmakers in mid-late January.