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Doulas-in-training offer vital support for immigrant and refugee moms

The doulas took a break from training with (rear row, from left) Kheir Mugwaneza, Senior Project Manager for Allegheny Health Network’s training program; WHAMglobal Global Health Associate Hanifa Nakiryowa; and Project Coordinator Katie Hyre.

Doulas can play an important role in achieving a successful pregnancy. While OB/GYNs and nurse-midwives provide clinical oversight of pregnancy and childbirth, a doula can provide physical, emotional, educational and practical support during events surrounding childbirth, including labor, delivery, breastfeeding, and family adjustment.

For immigrant and refugee women unaccustomed to the complicated U.S. healthcare system, doulas who share a similar language and culture can be a meaningful support.

That's why six Pittsburgh women are pursuing doula certification with the help of the Immigrant and Refugee Doula Community Health Worker Program at Allegheny Health Network's Center for Inclusion Health. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation helped the program to launch last year with a $250,000 grant. JHF's WHAMglobal Women's Health Specialist Kate Dickerson and Global Health Associate Hanifa Nakiryowa engaged in the effort.

AHN's Center for Inclusion Health, its Immigrant Community Engagement Committee and the WHAMglobal team have developed the program to support moms in the Latinx, Bhutanese/Nepali, and African Immigrant communities. That includes a doula who speaks Somali-Bantu and an Arabic-speaking doula to support the increasing number of Syrian families coming to Pittsburgh.

Guided by Kheir Mugwaneza, the center's senior project manager, and doula Katie Hyre, the women are receiving training through AHN's STAR Center, the Midwife Center, and Birth Partners of Pittsburgh. They are active in their communities; conducting education and outreach with women and community groups, and some have already attended births.

"I can tell that what we are doing in our communities is so important," said Amira Seoudy, who is originally from Egypt. "Mothers in my culture are used to having women support us in our births. One mom I visited -- you could tell she had been lonely. She was so happy to see me and to have me there to help her through this."

The six are working toward certification by DONA International, the Chicago-based organization that has been training doulas since 1992. In addition to their AHN studies, certification requires breastfeeding training, childbirth education, an extensive required reading list, and providing labor support to clients.

The doulas are "payor agnostic," and accept patients with any or no insurance. They are also exploring partnerships with the Jefferson Hospital Midwives to conduct group perinatal visits for the different communities. 

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