U of M Childbirth Study Could Increase Safety, Savings

Updated: 02/14/2013 6:25 PM KSTP.com By: Steve Tellier

Giving expecting mothers more physical, emotional, and educational support could lead to healthier babies, and save taxpayers money.

Those are the results of a new University of Minnesota study, and it could change the way the state pays for childbirths.

"She's been the blessing of my life," said Jenna Bursch, who had the help of a doula during her pregnancy.

She gave birth to her daughter, Melody, four months ago, and she's still singing the praises of her doula.

"I had the most outstanding support from her. She would call me and ask me how I was doing. We would just have wonderful conversations together," Bursch said.

A doula is a professional who helps expectant mothers, mothers in labor, and new moms to make healthy choices.

"Birth advocates are fond of saying, 'Every woman deserves a doula,' and our research shows that that's probably true," said Katy Kozhimannil, with the U of M's School of Public Health.

She led the study, which looked at births among low-income mothers in Minnesota. It found the odds of needing a cesarean were 40 percent lower when women had support from a doula.

Why is that significant?

In 2009, Minnesota's Medicaid program spent about $54 million on childbirths. One in four was a cesarean, which is more expensive than a natural birth.

"In 2009, we paid over $3 billion for cesarean deliveries in this country. That's something we should pay attention to," Kozhimannil said.

Melody was a natural birth. Her mom was paired with a doula at Everyday Miracles, a Twin Cities nonprofit helping low-income women.

"This isn't just about the birth and immediately after. It's a lifelong effect that we could never put a number on," said Debby Prudhomme, executive director of Everyday Miracles.

"This was the ultimate new experience for me, but I wouldn't give it up for a second," Bursch said.

The study is recommending that states look at providing Medicaid coverage for doulas, saying the savings from lower cesarean rates would more than make up for the cost of that additional coverage.

Researchers estimate it would save Minnesota taxpayers several millions of dollars.

The average Medicaid payment for a natural birth is about $9,100, while cesareans cost about $13,600.