Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City Partners Organize Maternal Health Training and Education Programs

MAYA Organization staff with their families and clients. Photo credit: MAYA Organization

This is the first article in a series featuring the Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City partners.

As part of Merck for Mothers' network of 20 Safer Childbirth Cities across the U.S., Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City aims to reduce racial/ethnic disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity rates across the city. Safer Childbirth Cities grantees work to engage communities in maternal health improvements and address the social determinants of health, and work with doulas and perinatal support workers to bolster the care support system around women and families during pregnancy, childbirth, and the months after.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) and Women's Health Activist Movement Global (WHAMglobal) facilitate the Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City initiative with seven partner organizations across the region, whose programs fill gaps and provide crucial services to the community. Many of these organizations are birthing-focused and prioritize Black birthing people and their support systems across the Pittsburgh region. Several partners offer training courses and skills-building opportunities, bolstering the maternal health workforce and assisting parents-to-be.

Iyanna Bridges, birth doula and founder of The Birthing Hut

Healthy Start, Inc. Pittsburgh leads the Community Advisory, which convenes community health advocates and provides training and leadership opportunities. Healthy Start identified a new cohort of community health advocates and completed their orientation on January 21, 2021. This is a key milestone of the Safer Childbirth Cities initiative. Healthy Start also held a virtual Safer Childbirth Cities Advisory Committee Retreat in December 2021 to offer training and team-building activities, and the community health advocates held their quarterly meeting on November 8. The Community Advisory is currently focused on communications/marketing and on improving connections to the overall Safer Childbirth Cities project. They are in the process of developing a detailed plan with Kimberly Sears Allers, the creator of the Irth App, to get more community members to utilize the app in order to share their experience with birth in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. The community health advocates will serve an integral part in planning, creating, and disseminating marketing materials for this initiative.

The Birthing Hut offers educational courses, both for families and for the maternal health workforce. Their programs prioritize serving Black birthing people and addressing maternal health disparities. Four students are participating in The Birthing Hut's student doula program, with more students to join in spring 2022. The Birthing Hut holds doula courses covering family planning, cultural postpartum care, Black birth history, and community engagement. The Birthing Hut also holds bi-monthly check-ins to help their student doulas stay on track with training. During the last fall and winter, one of The Birthing Hut's student doulas began working with her first client.

MAYA Organization holds prenatal classes, and last fall and winter 12 people completed eight prenatal classes. 202 people used MAYA's services during October through December. In a feedback survey, participating parents said that classes/education, support, and supplies were important offerings of MAYA's services. Their full-service Spanish-speaking program includes childbirth and lactation educators, and doulas. One expectant mother enrolled in MAYA in November and took a series of childbirth classes. She had a MAYA doula at her birth and reported feeling happy with how her birth went and grateful for the support. When she needed additional postpartum support with breastfeeding and mental health, a MAYA doula and a MAYA therapist provided immediate services.

MAYA Organization is developing a new support/education structure, Gestational-Age-Based groups, rather than having one prenatal series and one postpartum series. Their goal is for parents at similar stages to progress through the program together. MAYA Organization hopes that this will further strengthen their sense of community with other parents and increase and extend engagement over the childbearing year. MAYA also held "free store days" around the winter holiday season, during which parents could come and pick up diapers, donated items, and new, wrapped gifts for moms. MAYA Organization birth doula Amber Edmunds has joined a pilot program at Duquesne University to train nurses in culturally competent and antiracist care, and MAYA Organization is collaborating with several community partners to teach Circle of Security in community spaces.

WHAMglobal and JHF are grateful for the opportunity to work with these partner organizations and look forward to continuing to learn from them in the future. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, which will highlight additional Pittsburgh: A Safer Childbirth City partners.

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