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JCSU's lactation and doula programs awarded grant funding

Funding will be used to expand the Birthing Professionals Program in order to expand access to training for individuals of color.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Johnson C. Smith University's lactation and doula programs have been awarded nearly $1 million in a county grant funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).

The programs, which include the Lactation Consultant Training Program (LCTP) and the Birth Doula Certification program, are one of 75 local projects to which the county allocated ARPA funding during a recent  Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners meeting.

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The federal government allocated $99 million in ARPA funds to Mecklenburg County. The goal of this funding is to stimulate the local economy through strategic community investments by state and local governments. 

Projects that center on behavioral health and health equity were granted $34.2 million in funding to cover 27 projects, one of which is JCSU's lactation and doula programs, which will receive $943,000 in funding.

“This funding shows that the cries about maternal health have been recognized. It also shows that what we’ve been trying to do is important to Charlotte. JCSU’s program was created as a result of community requests and partnerships. We look forward to strengthening the partnerships and training competent birthing paraprofessionals," said Dr. Antonia Mead, chair of the Health and Human Performance Department at JCSU.  

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JCSU will use the grant funding to expand its Birthing Professionals Program. The goal of this program is to provide more widespread access to birthing professional training to individuals of color. 

JCSU hopes that having better representation in this field will improve maternal and child health outcomes for families of color. 

The birthing professional field is primarily composed of white professionals. JCSU seeks to close this gap. 

“Representation in the lactation field could build trust within the medical community among people of color. This could have a trickle-down affect by improving the overall health outcomes of Black people, addressing issues like obesity rates, diabetes, heart disease and maternal disparities, all of which plague the Black community.” said TaHysha McClain, director of the LCTP program.

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While specific plans to use this funding have not been finalized McClain believes it will be directed towards tuition assistance, support staff hiring, exam preparation aid for students taking the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant exam (IBCLC), and promoting JCSU's Birth Doula program. 

More local efforts to increase representation

Women here in the U.S. are more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications compared to other wealthy nations. The rates are worse for minorities, especially black women.

Doula Trainer & Founder of Mine-R-T Doula Company, Kira Kimble said increasing diversity in the field can help make a difference in improving maternal health for women of color. 

"It's important to have someone with you to support you throughout the pregnancy. And throughout the birthing process, who is able to recognize the tiny microaggressions that occur in the healthcare system, it's not always overt," said Kimble.

According to the CDC, black women are 3 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth.

"You are more likely to die just showing up as a black woman than you are, as anyone other race, just by virtue of ethnic, racial disparities," said Kimble. "It has nothing to do with income, insurance or anything like that."

Kimble has been a doula for over 10 years. She was drawn to the industry after she experienced bias in health care and is now committed to helping people have a more empowering birthing experience and training doulas to do the same.

"We are the watchful eye, and then the knowledgeable, watchful eye of what's happening in the birth space. So we can allow our clients to just focus on having the baby," she continued.

Her team of doulas is specifically trained to recognize and respond to bias within the healthcare system as it relates to labor and delivery and pregnancy.

She adds it’s about making sure moms have all of the information they need to make educated decisions for themselves and their babies.

Kimble has a childbirth class coming up next month.

Jesse Pierre: Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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