Role of Hospitals: Swedish Hospital

pregnant women sit in a bright room facing a counselor or doula

While the US maternal death rate climbs to astonishing heights, some hospitals — like Swedish Hospital in Seattle, Wash. — are recognizing the influential role doulas play in maternal care.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 40% increase in maternal deaths from 2020 to 2021, a rate more than 10 times that of other developed nations. For Black women, the rate is double that of white women. Integrating doula care into the childbirth process is one way some hospitals are addressing this alarming health disparity.

In the doula program at Swedish Hospital, doulas aim to create an empowered, patient-centered experience, informed by Swedish’s “culture work” and enhanced through collaborative exercises like emergency simulations. Involving doulas in prenatal and postpartum care provides patients and their families with a supporter who can serve, if needed, as a “translator” of sorts between the patient and their health care environment.

“The doula is like a companion, or coach, or an advocate who is wholly focused on the experience of the birthing person, their comfort, their emotional well-being and their wishes for their birth experience,” said Gwen Kiehne, lead doula at Swedish Hospital.

Listen to AHA’s latest Advancing Health podcast to learn more about the value of doula “wraparound” care, and how doulas and physicians can work together to bridge the disparity gap.

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