The benefits of a doula

doulaIn our last post, we covered the basics about doulas—what a doula is, what she does, how she fits into the birth team, her training and how to find a doula.  Today, we talk about the many proven benefits of having a doula. In 2011, an extensive study—the largest systematic review of continuous labor support—demonstrated the effects of having a doula for over 15,000 women who participated in 21 randomized controlled trials.  The study authors concluded from this extensive research that:

Having continuous labor support has clinically significant benefits for women and their babies and no known harm.  All women should have support through labor. 

Other experts have said that if the benefits of a doula could be bottled up in a jar and given to laboring women, it would be a crime not to use such a potent medicine.

Doulas mean better outcomes for mom

The best and most recent studies show that women with continuous labor support have:

  • shorter labors (by about 40 minutes on average)
  • a greater chance at spontaneous vaginal birth
  • fewer interventions, such as cesarean section or vacuum extraction with forceps
  • lower rates of epidural or analgesia to manage pain
  • lower rates of induction (via Pitocin)
  • more positive feelings toward their birth experiences, leading to a cascade of positive effects including
  • lower rates of postpartum depression

Specific studies have found that doulas help increase a laboring woman’s self esteem and actually can decrease her perception of physical pain during childbirth.

If we are just talking continuous labor support, wouldn’t a partner or a friend have the same effect?  Not necessarily.

The effects of continuous labor support are strongest when the person is not a member of the hospital staff or a person in the woman’s social network, and was present solely to provide one-on-one labor support (i.e. a professional doula).  With a doula, specifically, women were:

  • 34% less likely to view their birth experience negatively
  • 31% less likely to use synthetic oxytocin to speed up labor
  • 28% less likely to have a c-section
  • 12% more likely to have spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% less likely to use pain medication

Newborn in mother's handsDoulas mean better outcomes for babies

Research also shows improved outcomes for babies when doulas are present for a laboring woman.  These babies have:

  • better APGAR scores at birth
  • shorter hospital stays
  • fewer admissions to special care nurseries
  • have greater early breastfeeding success
  • have more affectionate mothers in the postpartum

In sum, the most important thing is for women to have continuous labor support from someone– a nurse, midwife, partner, or doula. However, with several birth outcomes, doulas have a stronger effect than other types of support persons.

For tips on how to find a doula, please see our post here.