Doulas: Research-Based Benefits

In honor of World Doula Week, we’d like to highlight some of the many benefits of hiring a doula to attend your pregnancy, birth and postpartum periods. A doula can bring tremendous support and peace of mind to this special time in your life, and they can add incredible support to both the mother-to-be and her partner. So, when it comes to hiring a doula, what are the potential benefits? Let’s have a look:

List of benefits of hiring a doula to attend your birth

But first, what is a doula? Well, a doula is trained in childbirth; a professional who provides emotional, physical and informational support to the mother who is expecting, experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. The doula’s purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience. The client-doula relationship can begin several months prior to the woman’s birth, and can continue several months postpartum. This can result in a close relationship, which allows the birthing mother to truly feel comfortable with her doula, thus enhancing their partnership and her birthing experience as a whole. There are birth doulas, who provide support to a woman before and during her labor and birth, as well as postpartum doulas, who help the family transition to having the new baby as a part of the family.

According to a study attempting to assess the effects of continuous, one-to-one intrapartum support compared with usual care (see abstract: Continuous support for women during childbirth), researchers concluded that continuous support during labor has clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants and no known harm. Additionally, they state unequivocally that all women should have support throughout labor and birth.

In order to reach that conclusion, they looked at twenty-one trials involving 15,061 women that met inclusion criteria and provided usable outcome data. They found that women with continuous support throughout their labor and childbirth were more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth and less likely to have intrapartum analgesia, or to report dissatisfaction. In addition, their labors were shorter, they were less likely to have a caesarean or instrumental vaginal birth, regional analgesia , or a baby with a low 5-minute Apgar score (1). Interestingly, the researcher’s analyses suggested that continuous support was most effective when provided by a woman who was neither part of the hospital staff nor the woman’s social network, which is where a doula would come in.

Additional studies have looked at maternal prenatal care and found similar results.

For instance, in another study – systematic review of midwife-led care vs. other models of maternity care – results showed that women who received models of midwife led care were less likely to experience fetal loss before 24 weeks’ gestation, less likely to have regional analgesia, less likely to have instrumental birth, less likely to have an episiotomy (with no significant differences in perineal lacerations), and were more likely to be attended at birth by a known midwife, more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth, initiate breast feeding and more stated to feel in control. In addition, their babies were more likely to have a shorter length of hospital stay (2). Although this particular study focuses on midwives, many women may not have access to midwifery care during her pregnancy and childbirth, and for post-natal care. A doula can be an excellent solution to a lack of midwifery care in a community, particularly because the doula can provide the much-needed support in any birth setting, whether it’s in a hospital, birth center or the client’s home.

Another benefit of having a doula in attendance is that it frees up the partner to support the birthing woman in a way that he (or she) sees fit, without having to worry about what he learned in birthing classes. That can be a significant benefit, depending upon the pair. The partner can instead focus on helping the birthing woman feel comfortable, take photos, or help support her in ways that she wants, aside from labor support.

If you’re interested in reading about what it’s like to be a doula, we shared a couple of guest posts in the past, each written by a doula. They’re both wonderful reads, and give you a great idea of what a day in the life of a doula can be like. If you’re interested in having a doula attend your pregnancy and birth, be sure to check the DONA website to find a certified doula in your area.

1. Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012 Oct 17;10:CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub4.
2. Soltani H, Sandall J. Organisation of maternity care and choices of mode of birth: a worldwide view. Midwifery. 2012 Apr;28(2):146-9. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2012.01.009. Epub 2012 Feb 24.
3. DONA International: