Mass General Brigham is attempting to address racial disparities in maternal mortality rates by pairing pregnant women with free birth doula services. Mass General Brigham’s Birth Partners Program focuses on Black and Indigenous first-time parents in an effort to reduce birth and postpartum complications, from cesarean sections to postpartum depression.

“Compared to many high-income countries, the United States has really poor outcomes when it comes to maternal mortality and maternal morbidity, so we sort of rank last when compared to many other developed countries,” Dr. Allison Bryant, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Mass General Hospital and senior medical director for health equity, quality and patient experience, told Boston Public Radio.

“The tragedy is that our populations have disparate outcomes,” Bryant added. ”In particular, our Black and Indigenous birthing people are much more likely to have maternal morbidities, or to be sick in the context of their pregnancies, or to die in the context of their pregnancies or in the year following.”

Patients who qualify for the Birth Partners Program can enter a lottery in their third trimester. If they’re selected for the program, patients are paired with a doula that will attend two prenatal visits, the birth, and two home visits in the postpartum period.

Birth doulas — whose popularity have skyrocketed in recent years — provide nonmedical physical, emotional and informational guidance and support to families both during and after pregnancy. The duties of a doula range from bridging the gap between mothers and doctors in medical settings to serving as emotional support in the postpartum period.

But even as doulas have become more popular, they remain inaccessible to every patient who may want that type of support. Caregivers typically aren’t covered by health insurance. In addition, due to the overwhelmingly white doula workforce, finding a caregiver with similar racial or linguistic backgrounds can be difficult.

Patients in the Mass General Brigham program are matched with a doula who can best fit their needs, free of charge.

“We know from a lot of data around the world that in fact, these birth doulas actually help to improve our patient outcomes,” Dr. Nicole Smith, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Having a birth doula with you decreases your likelihood of needing to have a C-section, for example, and that’s pretty exciting.”