Spotlight on Success: Open Arms Perinatal Services
Improving Our Maternity Care Now
Open Arms Perinatal Services is an excellent example of how community-based doulas that provide an extended range of prenatal to postpartum care can dramatically improve the health of mothers and babies. This program has served women with low incomes in the Puget Sound region of Washington state since 1997. Open Arms hires doulas directly from the communities it serves. They provide about 300 pregnant women annually with doula services and, when possible, match women with culturally and linguistically concordant doulas. Open Arms has offered services in 17 languages.
A less intense Birth Doula program supports women from the third trimester through birth and the first three postpartum months. The Community-Based Outreach Doula program provides home visits by the second trimester of pregnancy and through two years postpartum, in addition to continuous support at the time of birth.
Open Arms trains doulas, with an emphasis on equity and helping clients advocate for their needs. Open Arms works to provide doulas with a living wage and, as desired, a pathway to other health and social services jobs.
An independent evaluation of all Latina and Somali mothers and babies enrolled in the Community-Based Outreach Doula program between 2008 and 2016 documented a broad range of benefits, including:
- Clients experienced high rates of screening for depression and intimate partner violence (more than 85 percent).
- Both Latina and Somali clients had lower rates of preterm birth than a comparable sample in King County, Wash.
- Somali clients had a lower rate of cesarean birth (25 percent) than the Black population in King County (35 percent).
- 99 percent of clients initiated breastfeeding, exceeding the King County rate, and 94 percent were still breastfeeding at 6 months, by far exceeding the rate of state Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) programs (35.3 percent).
- Clients had low rates of child developmental concerns.
This evaluation concluded that rates of low birth weight, preterm birth, cesarean birth, and breastfeeding compare favorably to a broad range of possible comparators.