Nine months after launching, Indian River County Healthy Start is experiencing their own birth, with a successful Community Doula program paving a path to provide a unique, free program available to every mother, every family, every baby.

Doulas are trained, non-medical professionals who provide emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting to help them achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.

Indian River County Healthy Start Coalition is one of a kind, successfully launching their Community Doula services and training programs – the only one within Florida. Charged by the state with the responsibility of assessing and implementing ways to improve maternal child health within Indian River County, the Coalition created this program to bridge a gap in need and cultivate a mindset of community advocacy.

“The idea is to embed maternal health knowledge back into the community and invest in the idea of a village that educates and empowers one another,” said Andrea Berry, Indian River County Healthy Start CEO and graduate of the Doula program herself. “We are teaching each woman that we serve and each woman we train to understand their bodies, their health, and how powerful they truly are.”

The impacts are transformative – Doulas have been shown to have a great impact on birth outcomes and health literacy, with links to a decrease in post-partum depression, cesarean sections and pre-term labor. “Community Doula programs nation-wide have reported a decline in early term labor, which is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Indian River,” according to Berry.

Whether it is a first birth, or tenth, the program connects women to Doulas who are specially trained to provide support during the critical months of pregnancy, birth and the early months of parenting. This includes single mothers who may be walking through their pregnancy without a birthing partner or need a helping hand with resources. The service, funded by the John’s Island Service League, Indian River County Children’s Services advisory committee and Indian River County Impact 100, is complimentary to clients in Indian River County through the Coalition.

“When I gave birth to my son, I had no guidance and felt alone,” said Janay Brown, part of the inaugural class of trainees. “Becoming a Doula, having the chance to provide these mothers the support I did not have…building a bond, advocating for them and helping empower them to have the best birth possible is a privilege.”

Since the program was launched in 2017, eighteen Doulas have been trained, under the direction of Chicago’s Health Connect One, a national recognized maternal child health organization. With nine of those Doulas actively working with families, seventy-two women were cared for during their pregnancy, with twenty-five families utilizing their Community Doula’s assistance during the labor and delivery process. These Doulas also receive continuing education to maintain up-to-date evidence-based practices and recommendations.

Due to overwhelmingly positive feedback and success, the Coalition will host a second Community Doula Training Program for free in January. Details can be found on the Coalition’s website as they emerge.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said Healthy Start CEO Andrea Berry, “We are that village; we never want someone to feel alone or unprepared during this journey. Caring for a woman as she transitions into a mother, encouraging and supporting her as she cares for her new child, is the greatest gift we can give parents.”

Indian River Healthy Start Coalition is rooted in a vision to ensure every infant has the opportunity for good health and positive early learning experiences that unfold within strong family relationships. To learn more about programs available for every mother, family and baby born in Indian River County, visit irchealthystart.org.

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