Despite recent efforts to increase breastfeeding, young African American mothers continue to breastfeed at low rates, and commonly introduce complementary foods earlier than recommended. This study examines the effects of a community doula home visiting intervention on infant feeding practices among young mothers.
Low-income, African American mothers (n = 248) under age 22 years participated in a randomized trial of a community doula intervention. Intervention-group mothers received services from paraprofessional doulas: specialized home visitors trained as childbirth educators and lactation counselors. Doulas provided home visits from pregnancy through 3 months postpartum, and support during childbirth. Control-group mothers received usual prenatal care. Data were obtained from medical records and maternal interviews at birth and 4 months postpartum.
Intent-to-treat analyses showed that doula-group mothers attempted breastfeeding at a higher rate than control-group mothers (64% vs 50%; P = .02) and were more likely to breastfeed longer than 6 weeks (29% vs 17%; P = .04), although few mothers still breastfed at 4 months. The intervention also impacted mothers’ cereal/solid food introduction (P = .008): fewer doula-group mothers introduced complementary foods before 6 weeks of age (6% vs 18%), while more waited until at least 4 months (21% vs 13%) compared with control-group mothers.
Community doulas may be effective in helping young mothers meet breastfeeding and healthy feeding guidelines. The intervention’s success may lie in the relationship that develops between doula and mother based on shared cultural background and months of prenatal home visiting, and the doula’s presence at the birth, where she supports early breastfeeding experiences.