Community-Based Outreach Doulas: Revolutionizing Birth Support

Open Arms is a leader in community-based birth support, resulting in fewer preterm births, unplanned c-sections, babies with low birth weight, and higher rates of initiating and continuing breast/chestfeeding. We know that emotional and physical challenges do not stop after childbirth and that many families struggle with the transition from pregnancy to full-time parenthood. Research shows that the postpartum period is where the needs of new parents are often overlooked, impacting their health and the relationship with their children. No one is fully prepared for the demands of parenthood overnight, and that’s where our Community-Based Outreach Doula Program comes in.

Our Outreach Doulas are highly trained community health workers that run the only home-visiting program that provides birth support in Washington state. We not only provide support during the prenatal period, labor, and delivery but also postpartum and the early years of childhood. Our approach has proved so effective that we have the state’s highest rates of retention and sustained breast/chestfeeding. It was also the first Community-Based Outreach Doula program to be nationally accredited through HealthConnect One. Critical to our success and the success of families is culturally-responsive support and the use of the evidence-based Promoting First Relationships curriculum as a cornerstone of our Outreach Doula training.

Our communities of focus encompass the Black/African American, Somali, Latine/Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native communities of the Puget Sound region. Open Arms helps lower the barriers to access stemming from cultural or linguistic differences by pairing Outreach Doulas with community members of a similar background. Our model of care promotes confidence and trust in the parent-child bond, setting families up for success for the milestones and challenges of early childhood.

While the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new set of challenges for families, Open Arms’ Outreach Doulas have been creative in supporting new parents during this time. Most of their visits have been virtual or socially distant. Yet, in one instance, a member of the team drove over 200 miles to provide emergency support. Through this past year and a half, our Outreach Doulas have cooked homemade cultural foods and organized meal trains for isolated or ill community members as well as “drive-by” birthday celebrations for the babies in our programs. Since March 2020, our Outreach Doulas have:

  • Supported 49 births (including two sets of twins) and 100 families spanning three counties.
  • Participated in 4,000 visits and contacts.
  • Made nearly 2,000 no-contact deliveries of diapers, car seats, and fresh local produce with support from our partnerships with WestSide Baby and Seattle Tilth Alliance.

The pandemic has not slowed down our Outreach Doula team, which recently added a new Outreach Doula. Learn more about each of our members below.

Hawa, one of our Community-Based Outreach Doulas serving the Somali community, continues to tirelessly work to support positive maternal health outcomes for her community. For over ten years she has served her community as an Outreach Doula and the families she supports have a 95% lactation-at-birth rate. Hawa has supported 45 births with over 75% of those births being vaginal and over 90% of them healthy births. Hawa exemplifies how Open Arms works to help families and communities thrive.

Jacqueline is one of our Community-Based Outreach Doulas serving the African American community. Four months into her tenure at Open Arms, she already carried a full caseload! Typically, new Outreach Doulas are able to onboard one family every other month, resulting in a full caseload by two years. Jacqueline has leaped directly into our program and we cannot be more thrilled with her dedication and passion for the work.

We often say our Outreach Doulas go above and beyond for their families. When it comes to Kristin, we truly mean that. Kristin will go to the ends of state for her clients as she displayed recently. She drove over 200 miles to support a family who had an urgent need. While this trip was a one-time emergency support, it exemplifies her willingness to support her families however necessary to support them thriving.

Loida is a Community-Based Outreach Doula serving families with roots in Latin America. Loida has a heart and mind for justice. She passionately pursues abolishing any injustices she witnesses and fights for liberation for all. Loida has provided intense support for her communities throughout COVID-19. For some families, this has meant Loida has been in contact with them daily to reduce their isolation. For others, Loida has cooked homemade cultural foods to and arranged meal trains for isolated or ill community members. Loida has taught herself new virtual platforms to support linking her families with community resources even when faced with constant barriers and roadblocks. Loida is a passionate advocate for her community and we are honored to have her on the team.

We are so proud to announce that Margarita, one of our Community-Based Outreach Doulas serving the Latinx community, has earned her Promoting First Relationships Trainer (PFR) Certificate. This will allow her to share her wisdom and expertise with our Community-Based Outreach Doula team and mentor them through the PFR certification process. Margarita has been conducting PFR with the families she serves for many years and has seen the incredible value of the curriculum with families. She is excited to support the team in their PFR learning journey and facilitate the re-integration of PFR into the CBOD curriculum.

Suad, one of our Community-Based Outreach Doulas, was recently nominated for 206 Rising’s “2021 Who’s Rising” Award. As all that know her will attest, she is a tireless advocate for the health and wellbeing of her community. In her work as an Outreach Doula, she supports family’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. She is an effervescent presence in our Open Arms Family and always knows how to make us laugh. We are so proud to have her on our team and honor the support she provides for her families.

Van (they/them) is a non-binary Black woman who is a traditional student midwife, doula, rootworker, sacred healing circle keeper, Black infant health minister, CHW, lactation peer counselor, mindfulness childbirth educator, and so much more. Through traditional ways of healing, preparing the body, mind, and spirit for birth, and postpartum education, Van helps families create the prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum experience that feels right for them.