Pregnancy

TRENTON — A bill advancing in the state Legislature will seek federal Medicaid coverage for doula care during childbirth.

Research shows doulas — trained nonclinical professionals who provide physical and emotional support to mothers before, during and after childbirth — are associated with lower C-section rates and fewer complications, bill sponsors said.

Legislators would have to obtain federal approval to expand the state’s Medicaid program, through which they plan to apply for an amendment or waiver to get doula services covered with federal dollars.

“Doulas help their clients gain a better understanding of the procedures and possible complications in pregnancy or delivery, where they are in constant proximity to the mother,” Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, Passaic, said in a statement. “They have the ability to provide comfort with pain-relief techniques including breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, massage and labor positions.”

The state’s medical assistance program, subject to limitations by federal law, already includes comprehensive maternity care, which may be prenatal and postpartum visits, nutrition counseling, health education, managed care, laboratory work, follow-up services, and physician or certified nurse-midwife delivery services.

The bill, which got approval Monday from the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, would allow the commissioner of the state Department of Human Services to establish regulations for the law, including eligibility rules and coverage limitations.

The legislation aligns with a statewide push to improve maternal services to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates, especially in communities of color.

State health officials announced earlier this year they would launch a pilot doula program in cities with high black infant mortality rates, such as Atlantic City. Other local organizations have also identified the need for doulas. Experts at Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers said they are working on creating their own doula program for area patients.

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Staff Writer

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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