”If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” – – John H. Kennell, MD
There have been several clinical studies done to evaluate the effect of having continuous support during labor and birth. These have shown that women who received such support were more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births (that is, they were more likely to go into labor without the use of labor inducing drugs or techniques, and they delivered without the use of instruments such as forceps or vacuum extraction or by c-section). These women were less likely to request any pain medication or an epidural, and their labors were shortened. They had more positive feelings overall about childbirth, and their babies had higher Apgar scores at birth.
The best results were shown when women were continuously supported in labor by a doula who was neither a staff member of the hospital nor a friend or family member of the woman giving birth. Still not convinced? Let me throw down some statistics. When women were given continuous emotional support in labor, they experienced:
- 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
- 28% decrease in the risk of c-section
- 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
- 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
- 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
- 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience
How can the presence of a doula make such a difference? Put simply, fear wreaks havoc on the process of birth. Fear initiates a physical response in our bodies which can increase pain, slow down labor, and lead to abnormal heart rate patterns in baby. Having a knowledgeable birth professional providing continuous emotional, physical and informational support throughout labor reduces fear.
Another way to think about this is to say that a doula “mothers the mother.” This reduces the amount of stress experienced by the whole family, which in turn allows the new parents to put their energy and attention toward welcoming and bonding with their new baby. Research shows that having a doula’s support can lead to parents who feel more secure, self-confident and are more successful in adapting to their new lives with a baby. Parents supported by a doula are also less likely to experience postpartum depression and have a lower incidence of abuse.
But wait–there’s more! There is also evidence that having a doula at one’s birth improves breastfeeding outcomes in the immediate postpartum period and for weeks afterward. Birth doulas have training in supporting breastfeeding, and they also reduce the chances of having a whole slew of interventions which can interfere with establishing breastfeeding.
So, back to the quote at top. Now that you know all the potential benefits, if a doula were a pill you could take, or a technique you could practice, or a procedure you could undergo, why would you choose not to use one?