Of Greek origin, the word “doula” has come to refer to a woman that provides emotional, physical, practical, and educational support for laboring and postpartum women. The doula has taken a place alongside female friends and extended family that traditionally assist expecting and new moms during birthing and parenting.
The non-medical care offered by birth and postpartum doulas is invaluable, and the benefits of their one-on-one support are numerous, including decreased rates of cesarean section, decreased use of pain meds and epidural anesthesia, decreased use of Pitocin, increased rates of maternal satisfaction, decreased postpartum depression and anxiety, improved breastfeeding rates, and greater mother-infant interaction and bonding. Partners of laboring women also benefit from the presence of a doula and find that they are more relaxed and feel better able to support their loved one when a doula is available to offer guidance and suggestions.
In their consensus statement, Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine has acknowledged the evidence-based benefits of continuous labor support, such as that provided by a doula, for improving labor and delivery outcomes:
Published data indicate that one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula. A Cochrane meta-analysis of 12 trials and more than 15,000 women demonstrated that the presence of continuous one-on-one support during labor and delivery was associated with improved patient satisfaction and a statistically significant reduction in the rate of cesarean delivery (111). Given that there are no associated measurable harms, this resource is probably underutilized.
Making Doula Support More Widely Available
In a perfect world, every laboring woman would have a doula, in addition to her nurse and her midwife or OB; however, not everyone can afford one. Doulas cost about $800 – $1200 per labor & birth. Doulas in training may offer support at no or little cost, with rates averaging around $300. There are initiatives currently underway to promote the recognition of doulas as community health workers and to fight for insurance reimbursement for doula care. Payers need to put their money towards prevention. What better way to reduce rates of costly medical intervention for healthy, low-risk, laboring women and new moms than supporting doula care and helping it become more accessible to all women, no matter their socio-economic status?
Pregnancy and parenting are challenging transitions. Lack of knowledge, isolation, insufficient support, stress, and economic struggles make the adjustment even more difficult. The calming presence of a professional doula, along with her knowledge and practical support, can make all the difference. The use of doula care has shown that if a mother is well-supported, the entire family benefits.
To find a birth or postpartum doula, word-of-mouth is the best way to go, but you can also find a doula search button through DONA International. If cost is an issue, don’t forget that some doulas-in-training are free and others offer affordable rates. It has been said that the moment a child is born, a mother is also born. The maternal-infant bond starts in pregnancy. Expecting and new moms deserve support that will allow them to better care for themselves and their babies. The positive effects are exponential!