Helping families get off to a strong start: What is home visiting and how has it changed during the COVID-19 pandemic

The term doula is one that most people might think of when it comes to celebrity pregnancies, but know little else about. At the Ounce, we know that creating strong bonds between parents and babies is crucial to a baby’s future development. Our Healthy Parents & Babies program’s doulas and home visitors serve children and families, beginning prenatally and through age 3. Our doulas and home visitors are trained professionals who provide the highest level of care to help families from under-resourced communities thrive. In the wake of COVID-19 crisis, our program has had to adapt services to a virtual format to continue to meet families’ needs while keeping everyone safe and healthy. ­­

But first, what is a doula?

A doula is trained professional who provides continuous educational, emotional and physical support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help achieve the healthiest pregnancy, labor and delivery possible. Doulas support and comfort mothers and help them to have a safe and memorable birthing experience. A doula is responsible for informing and educating families about the different medical interventions, comfort measures, patient rights and other topics related to childbirth and post-partum education. Typically, doulas accept mothers who are entering into their third trimester. Doulas are required to have a series of monthly home visits with the participants to ensure they are able to not only retain the information, but to also make informed decisions.

What is the difference between a doula and a home visitor?

A doula coaches mothers through pregnancy and the first few weeks of their baby’s life. This helps the mother to develop healthy habits prior to birth, prepare for a successful pregnancy, labor and delivery, and create strong bonds with the baby. Our Healthy Parents & Babies program empowers mothers to make the right decisions for herself and advocate for her child’s health.

Once the baby is born, families transition from a doula to a home visitor who helps continue building a strong relationship between parent(s) and their baby, creating a safe and stimulating home environment, developing healthy eating routines for the family and connecting families to health care resources. Parents learn activities and habits that will stimulate their child’s brain development to help them thrive.

Why are doulas/home visitors important during a child’s early stages of life?

Doulas are important during the pregnancy as they provide education to women about the stages of pregnancy, changes to their body and fetal development. Doulas also provide support to pregnant women during labor and delivery by providing comfort measures, support and guidance to advocate for their laboring and delivery preferences.

Home visitors are important during a child’s early stages of life as they provide families with individual educational support with early attachment and learning about their child’s growth and development. Home visitors also support families with individual parent-child education and recognize that parents and caregivers are the child’s first teacher.

What does doula/home visiting look like at Healthy Parents & Babies?

The Ounce’s Healthy Parents & Babies Program offers support and coaching to pregnant women, young parents and children birth through age 3. Each family is provided with an individualized home visiting plan that is tailored to meet their needs. Pregnant women learn about their pregnancy and their child’s growth and development. Home visits include story time, parent-child development activities, parent reflections and planning for the next home visit.

How has Healthy Parents & Babies adapted services during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Out of an abundance of caution for the health and well-being of our families, doulas, home visitors and family support staff, Healthy Parents & Babies has moved all of its work to a virtual format in the wake of the current health crisis.

Our doula’s have continued to support families with weekly virtual check-ins and support during labor and delivery. Our home visitors have maintained contact with their families on their scheduled home visit day by checking-in via cellphone, FaceTime, messenger, Class Dojo and Zoom.

Our family support specialists have been maintaining weekly contact with parents and providing information on proper hand washing, symptoms of COVID-19 and locations where families can get tested for COVID-19. Family support staff have also continued to provide weekly check-ins with families that include well-being checks, and information on resources such as: support services for unemployment, community food pantries and resources for immigrant families.

What makes Healthy Parents & Babies unique?

Healthy Parents & Babies serves children and families prenatally through age 3. Women can enter our program at any stage of their pregnancy, and after their children are born, they transition to our Early Head Start home visiting program. Program participation is not limited to first-time mothers or first-time participants in the program. Participants must meet Early Head Start income eligibility guidelines.

We also support families with children who have special needs through individualized lesson plans which are inclusive to the child’s Individual Family Service Plan. Our team serves a diverse population, and we employ bilingual staff to support the families we serve.

Our families genuinely love the program, their doulas and home visitors:

“Healthy Parents & Babies has helped not only my family but every family in this program and I can only speak for myself, but we will forever be grateful that during this time you are able to help us.” –Elizabeth H.

“I’m really thankful with all of you for all your support, I know it’s a lot of people who are a part of the program that don’t even know me. But Rosa and Vicky thank you so much you are always there for us, in the times when I even need to talk to someone you have been there, always trying to look for help for us. And loving my girls. I will be sure to tell my girls all about my experience with you all and pray that they grow up to help and care for the next family in need of help. Thank you so much!” –Debbie C.

Other program benefits include:

  • Prenatal and parent group meetings
  • Events to socialize and interact with other children and parents
  • Literacy events
  • Male involvement groups
  • Limited transportation assistance
  • Services for children with special needs

To learn more about our doula program, click here.