ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT: https://lihf.wisc.edu/2017/04/05/what-does-a-doula-do/
In February, the Kenosha LIHF Collaborative sponsored an “Introduction to Doulas and Midwives” seminar presented by members of the Wisconsin Doulas of Color Collective (WIDoCC). The event engaged 40 community partners and friends at the Kenosha Public Museum, an open space conducive to inspired thought. At the seminar, I was struck by an infographic that inverted the question and focus of this blog with the declaration: “WHAT DOULAS DO!”
The seminar came together as part of a growing interest in birthing options for pregnant moms, dads and families who may want support during pregnancy or alternatives to hospital delivery. Archaic, you think? Not so much! We learned from our speakers, DeAnna Tharpe and Tamara Thompson Moore, that the advent of having babies in hospitals rather than at home emerged by the mid-20th century in many countries, shifting our culture more towards the medicalization of childbirth. Yet we know and are all here because women have been birthing babies for generations, across millennia, long before modernized delivery practices.
Historically and culturally, women have been supported by other women during pregnancy, labor and birth. Doulas and midwives are professionally trained and come alongside the mother, father and family during pregnancy and birthing to comfort, educate and help usher babies into life. Midwives offer more specialized clinical services, including pain management and delivery, while doulas focus on physical, emotional and practical support. Both are skilled in a continuum of care and birth work that extends beyond the maternal and medical hospital practices that are typically provided by doctors and nurses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine is quoted on the infographic to say that: Continuous labor support by a doula is “one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes.”
Improving birth outcomes and preventing infant mortality is a mantra of the Kenosha LIHF Collaborative. We know that the African American infant mortality rate in Kenosha, as in the other LIHF communities of Racine and Milwaukee, is too high – and 89% of all African American infant deaths in Wisconsin happen in these three, plus Rock counties. The lack of support during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, as well as the medicalized treatment and potential trauma of hospital birth reported by some, makes a strong case for doulas.
Doulas are certified by DONA, the International Center for Traditional Childbearing or other professional institutions. The Wisconsin Doulas of Color Collective finds its niche in delivering culturally appropriate services to women of color and women of low income wherever they reside. Those of us who attended the Kenosha LIHF seminar were inspired to learn from our speakers about the work of doulas and options for families who want support during pregnancy and birthing.
The statistics bear witness: doula care has led to 28% fewer cesareans, 31% less use of Pitocin to induce labor, 40 minutes’ shorter labor, higher Apgar scores, increased breastfeeding and more. So, if WHAT DOULAS DO in “providing emotional, informational and physical support before, during and after birth for childbearing women and their partners,” helps to achieve better health benefits for mom, dad and babies, let WHAT DOULAS DO be done!
To learn more, see:
Hodnett, E.D. et al. Cochrane Systematic Review: Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth.
Gruber, K.J. PhD et al. Impact of Doulas on Healthy Birth Outcomes.