New research out of the University of Minnesota finally puts a price tag on support, empathy, compassion, and preparation—the key characteristics of doula support during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
Associate professor in the School of Public Health and author of the study, Katy Kozhimannil, confirmed what anecdotal history and other studies have already shown. Doulas provide care that increases the education, preparation, and voice of the laboring person so they are better equipped to handle the physical and emotional challenges of labor, often resulting in decreased need for pain medications and medical interventions. Doulas are trained in comfort techniques to naturally relieve pain which combined with their emotional care helps define a line between pain and suffering for the birthing mother.
Creating an atmosphere of support and love, a trained doula helps to strengthen the relationships between the laboring mother and her partner, and her provider. With more holistic understanding between all members of the birth team, the family has a much greater chance of being respected by the medical staff and having a positive memory of their birth experience.
Overall, continuous doula care reduces the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding birth, which reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the mother, which reduces stress on the baby in utero, which can make labor smoother. It’s a win-win-win-win!
The Minnesota study supports this nurturing-based feedback loop, citing evidence that doula supported women are 22% less likely to have preterm births (the leading cause for most infant complications concerning breathing, the heart, the brain, the immune system, vision, the gastrointestinal system, and the list keeps going…); Minnesota estimates regular doula care for laboring women in the state could prevent around 3,200 preterm births each year.
With doula support women are less likely to need expensive medical interventions such as induction, augmentation, pain medication, forceps, and cesareans. With a decreased need for costly interventions, the savings start to add up. In all, the University of Minnesota calculated that regular doula support in the birth sector could save Medicaid a whopping $58 million each year!
This new research is tremendously helpful in understanding the value of non-traditional care in the birth community, but the fiscal proof of success is only the first step to changing the world—a doula’s real mission.
Quantitating the emotional benefits of continuous care during childbirth is a highly-anticipated step towards restoring dignity to pregnant and laboring women by making the case for less medical interruptions during labor. If studies like this are to make a real change, the states or insurers (or whatever single-payer system Bernie has planned), needs to integrate doulas into the normal birth team—for all births in every hospital and birth center.
Once doula care is more ubiquitous, birth will once again be reclaimed by a strong family-like unit. However, instead of returning to a more traditional home-birthing team made up of aunts, grandmothers, and sisters, the modern American birth team will consist of committed, engaged partners—the laboring mother, spouse, provider, and doula—all actively working to bring a new life into the world surrounded by compassion, joy, empowerment, safety, and security.
Eliminating birth trauma for the mother, baby, and family is a critical turning point for empowering women to advocate for themselves, their children, and families. The experience and self-esteem that can be either gained or lost during pregnancy and birth is astonishing and undeniable. Creating a healthcare system that supports the evolution of the birth team to include doulas is a powerful step towards creating a better world where children are literally born into advocacy, empowerment, and understanding. It an only go up from there!