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Doulas Urge Black Californians To Know Their Health Care Rights During Pregnancy

A woman in a mustard yellow long-sleeved shirt sits with her infant son. To her right is a pregnant woman in a blue plaid shirt and standing to her right is a woman with black leggings on holding an infant. The wall behind them is painted olive and cream with a large gold sun.
Erika Moore, Farah Kolker and Andrea Orrego gather at Kindred Space in pre-pandemic times to ask questions, share their experiences and get advice about pregnancy and motherhood.
(Mariana Dale
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Black Californians die from pregnancy-related complications at rates nearly four times higher than the general population.

The state and Los Angeles County are trying to increase access to doula support, which research shows can bring healthier outcomes to moms and babies.

“Honestly, it's not a luxury,” said Los Angeles doula and birthing rights advocate Michelle Sanders on LAist’s AirTalk. “It's essential to have someone there for you, another set of eyes and ears, to help make sure that if things are not going well, that you have an advocate there.”

What Rights Do Birthing Parents & Doulas Have In Hospitals?
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Doulas are not doctors or midwives. They provide emotional, educational, and advocacy support.

More On Doulas

“You can equate it to a personal trainer, but for pregnancy,” Sanders said. “We want to know, 'What are your goals? What is it that you want this birthing experience to look like?' And we want to make sure that you have all of the information to then advocate for yourself, and navigate the health care system.”

It can cost at least several hundred to several thousand dollars to hire a doula, and most private health care insurance won’t pay for their services.

California’s public insurance program for low-income families, Medi-Cal, started covering doula support this year and there are free and low-cost doula programs.

What to expect (and demand) from your pregnancy and postpartum care
  • One resource Sanders recommends is the Black Birthing Bill of Rights created by the National Association to Advance Black Birth.

  • A few of those rights include:

    • Being listened to,  heard, respected and believed 
    • Choosing the people who support you 
    • Receiving accurate information 

“If you're not feeling seen and heard by your providers, then you have a right to find a provider that you do feel comfortable with,” Sanders said. “That you do feel they are able to see you and hear you and treat you with the respect that you deserve.”

Sanders is among the advocates calling for accountability in the wake of the January childbirth death of an Inglewood woman. April Valentine’s family said she complained about swelling and numbness in her legs multiple times and that she was denied access to the doula who had long been a part of her birth plan.

The California Department of Public Health recommended in June 2021 that a doula be permitted in the hospital room in addition to the patient’s desired support people.

In response to questions from LAist about its doula policy, the Centinela Hospital Medical Center spokesperson wrote that patients are permitted two visitors in addition to a doula, who is considered a support person.

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Sanders said while a hospital’s written policy may permit doulas, that isn’t always the case in reality.

“That policy is really left up to interpretation of whoever's on shift,” Sanders said. “It may be the security at the desk who has not gotten the memo or doesn't really care if you're a doula or not. It may be the charge nurse that night, or it could be the actual physician.”

Find help

Birth and Postpartum Resources
  • These resources were recommended by California birth workers and families. Have a suggestion? Email

  • For more on specific topics, see LAist’s pregnancy guides.

  • Mental Health

  • Breastfeeding

  • Doulas / Postpartum Support

  • Doulas provide expecting and new mothers or birthing people with educational, emotional, and physical support before, during, and after a baby is born. Postpartum doulas’ services can include cooking, help around the house, and various healing modalities. Pro tip: many postpartum doulas are available pro-bono while they are seeking certification.

    • What Do Doulas Do? – LAist’s guide to doulas, including a list of resources to find a doula in Southern California.
    • Birthworkers of Color Collective – A collective of birth workers of color providing trainings, workshops, and healing offerings for birthworkers, pregnant people, and their families.
    • DONA International – Doula certifying organization that includes a search tool to find prenatal and postpartum doulas.
  • Support Groups

  • Many support groups and parent and me classes exist throughout Southern California, and the best way to find one is to search online for groups in your area. You might also find these groups through your hospital or places where you find breastfeeding gear. It sometimes helps to look for activities you enjoy (eg. yoga, swimming, dancing) and see if they have “baby and me” classes.

  • A few places to start:

    • Kindred Space – A hub for midwifery care, doula support, lactation consulting and support groups.
    • LOOM – Provides pregnancy, breastfeeding classes, and a doula directory.
    • Lucie’s List – Map of local parent groups.
    • Pump Station – Baby supply store that also offers parent and me classes.
  • For Black Parents-to-Be

  • For Partners / Fathers

    • Black Daddy Dialogues – Support group for dads raising Black children, every second Saturday of the month.
    • Love Dad – Home visits to fathers and their children throughout L.A. County  
    • The Expecting Fathers Group for Black Dads – Support group for Black soon-to-be fathers and provides education, support and navigation tools for the prenatal, labor and delivery, postpartum, and early parenting. 
  • Loss / Grief

  • Social Services 

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.

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