Program helps meet need for doulas during births in Polk County

In Polk County, there's a new training program for women to become doulas, or birthing assistants. 

After having four of her own kids, Stephanie Lewis is now ready to help other women give birth to theirs. As a new doula, she can’t wait to take on her first client.

"She is going to be spoiled," Lewis told FOX 13. "I am excited about getting to love on her the way I would have wanted to be loved on."

Lewis is a recent graduate of the free doula training program sponsored by the Healthy Start Coalition of Highlands, Hardee and Polk counties. 

A spokeswoman for the Healthy Start Coalition said doulas are especially needed in Polk, because the county’s infant mortality rate is higher than the state average.

Doulas can help a woman plan for the birth of her child by talking about where the mom-to-be wants to have the baby. Some women prefer a home birth or going to a birthing center rather than delivering in the hospital.

Doulas can also act as an advocate, a friend and confidante to clients.

"If they have things that they want to discuss without their husband, boyfriend, or even their mom, that’s where we come in," Lewis said.

They are especially important when it gets down to the wire.

Doulas do anything that helps the woman have a better experience, from helping the woman pack her suitcase, to giving her a massage or providing words of encouragement when she is in labor.

"A lot of midwives love doulas, because they’re kind of taking some of the pressure off them, and they get to focus more on the baby, where the doula can focus more on the mom," said Lewis.

Medicaid and some insurance companies pay for a doula’s services. Coverage usually includes two prenatal visits, the presence of the doula during childbirth, and two follow-up visits.

Polk County has nearly 8,000 births a year.