Walmart has expanded its benefits to provide employees with access to doula services, an announcement suggesting that employers are getting more serious about benefits to support workers before, during and after childbirth.
The benefit, which kicked off Nov. 1 for most Walmart workers nationwide, covers up to $1,000 for doula services during pregnancy and is part of a suite of benefits offered through the company's "Life with Baby" program, which is available to associates on most employee medical plans. The exception is Walmart employees in Hawaii, as workers in the Aloha State have a different set of medical plans.
The retail giant first covered doulas—nonmedical professionals who assist expectant mothers emotionally and physically through pregnancy, labor and delivery—in a pilot program in 2021 for employees in Georgia. The program was later expanded into Louisiana, Indiana and Illinois.
Walmart's doula coverage announcement is the latest in a string of benefit announcements by the retailer. In May, Walmart beefed up its mental health benefits, doubling the number of therapy and mental health coaching sessions it provides to all workers and their dependents. In July, it added a new financial wellness benefit, offering free financial literacy education for all employees through online provider Khan Academy.
Walmart said its doula benefits expansion reflects its desire to help employees who want to add to their families—a focus for many employers, particularly in the past couple of years. For example, according to 2023 SHRM data, significant strides have been made in parental leave and family leave benefits programs over the past year.
"We are always looking for ways to evolve our family-building benefits, and by expanding coverage for doula services nationwide, we hope that all our associates and their families feel supported during these major life milestones," Lisa Woods, Walmart's vice president, physical and emotional well-being, said in a company blog post.
Woods said the decision to offer employees access to doulas was in part made due to gaps in maternal care in the U.S.
More than 5.6 million women live in counties with no or limited access to maternity care services, according to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization aimed at improving the health of mothers and babies.
Sign of a Growing Trend
The news is significant, given that Walmart is the country's largest private employer, with roughly 1.6 million employees in the U.S., said Dr. Neel Shah, chief medical officer at Maven Clinic, a virtual health care provider that specializes in women's health and works with employers.
"I think it's a watershed moment in terms of doulas, in general, coming closer to the fold," he said. "Even a couple of years ago, most people didn't know what doulas were, even though there was a preponderance of evidence saying that doulas are helpful to people in having the birth experiences that they want and help lead to better outcomes. We're seeing a lot more momentum for doula services, and Walmart's news is another indicator of that."
Other employers including Microsoft and CVS Health offer some doula coverage for their employees. Historically, doulas have often been excluded from traditional health care coverage.
In addition to addressing gaps in maternity care services, employers like Walmart are adding doula services to address increasing maternal mortality in the U.S.
Maternal mortality rates are on the rise, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In particular, Black women are at least three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, and they also have higher rates of maternal morbidity.
Studies have found that doula services are associated with better birth outcomes, such as lower rates of cesarean sections, shorter periods of labor and fewer babies born underweight.
"Doulas are helpful because when you need support, you need it. You don't want to make an appointment and have to wait for it. With a doula, you can take out your phone and connect to somebody right away," Shah said. "It's really about providing access to care and support to people, and having employers be a part of these solutions is incredibly important."