Chicago Project Delivers Support to Young Mothers-to-Be

Doula program for low-income pregnant teenagers

From August 1996 to July 2000, Chicago Health Connection, a health education and advocacy organization, developed and implemented a four-year pilot project that used nonmedical birth assistants known as doulas to help low-income single teen mothers in high-risk Chicago neighborhoods.

The doulas, who were recruited from the community and trained by project staff, provided information and emotional and physical support to the mothers from the last months of pregnancy through the first weeks postpartum and generally were present during labor and delivery.

Key Findings: A researcher tracked outcome data for 259 women served by the project's three pilot sites in Chicago.

  • Only 8.1 percent of the mothers with a doula present at birth had a cesarean section compared to 12.9 percent for Chicago teen mothers as a whole.
  • Compared to national data, fewer doula mothers used epidural anesthesia.
  • Compared to national data, more initiated breastfeeding.

Afterward: Abramson reported in April 2008 that Chicago Health Connection now had contracts with 23 organizations in 10 states including Georgia, Indiana and Texas to provide training and technical assistance to doula programs for low-income women.