Did anyone else watch Gilmore Girls back in the day? Did you stick around long enough to catch what Luke's sister, Liz, named her daughter near the end of the series? She and her husband, T.J., named their daughter Doula. Yes, Doula, like what many people call a labor assistant. Liz had one for the delivery of her daughter, and the couple liked the title so much, they gave it to their baby as a name. That all might sound a little strange, but that's Gilmore Girls for you. The point is, that was honestly the first time I had ever even heard of a doula. This, in spite of the fact that studies on doulas and birth show there are benefits to having a labor assistant. So why don't more people know about doulas, and the services they can provide?
Less than 10 percent of American women use a doula during childbirth, according to Newsweek. The publication noted that stars like Nicole Kidman and Kelly Ripa have used them, and that there's definitely an impression that only celebrities and wealthy women can afford such a service for pregnancy, labor, and delivery. But if you have the means to get one, the sort of attention doulas can provide is definitely worth it.
In addition to the emotional support doulas provide to a woman and sometimes her partner during labor, using a doula for a birth has been proven to help both mom and baby physically as well. Doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a baby with a low birth weight, and two times less likely to experience birth complications involving themselves or their baby, according to a 2013 study titled "Impact of Doulas on Healthy Birth Outcomes."
The study also found that mothers who have doula assistance are significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding, which has been shown to have a number of its own positive benefits on moms and babies. And anything that can help a mom or baby during delivery and as a newborn grows is usually welcome to expectant mothers.
The role of a doula is, generally, to provide continuous support during labor. In one study of 22 trials involving 15,288 women, women who had that sort of continuous support had shorter labors, and were less likely to have a Caesarean-section, among other "clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants." It shouldn't be a surprise that having continuous support during labor has a positive impact on mothers giving birth, but if there was ever any doubt, there's definitely evidence to support the idea.
The truth is, there are a ton of benefits to having a doula. WebMD lists a bunch of services a doula can offer on a page titled "What are the benefits of having a doula?," with answers provided by Dr. Yvonne Butler Tobah. Paraphrased, the list reads:
- Attention to physical comfort using techniques like touch and massage and assistance with breathing
- Emotional reassurance, as well as encouragement and comfort
- Information about what's going on during the labor and postpartum period
- Assistance with facilitating communication between a mother and hospital staff
- Guidance and support for loved ones (like partners or other family, I assume)
- Help with breastfeeding
Plus, WebMD reported that support from doulas during birth can lead to decreased use of pain relief medication during labor and a decrease in negative childbirth experiences.
For the record, there are some things that doulas can't do that midwives can. A midwife is a health care provider, whereas a doula is more like a childbirth coach, according to The Bump. Midwives are able to deliver babies in hospitals, birthing centers, or in your home, while doulas are there more for other services and support. So if you're considering having a doula, keep in mind that they aren't meant to be your only labor assistant.
But even if they can't do the medical side of things during labor, doulas are still a great resource to have during delivery. There are studies that show the benefits of having a labor assistant like a doula, so if you can do it or are considering it, it might be one of the most important choices you make during your pregnancy.