Doula

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A doula (left) using comforting touch to help alleviate contractions during labor.

A doula (/ˈdlə/) is a trained non-medical companion who supports another individual through a significant health-related experience such as childbirth, miscarriage, induced abortion or stillbirth or non-reproductive experiences such as dying.[1][2][3][4] A doula may also provide support to the partner, family and friends.[5][6] The overall goal of a doula in any context is for their client to feel safe, be informed and feel comfortable, complementing the role of health professionals providing medical care.

Unlike doctors, midwives or nurses, doulas are not medical professionals and therefore cannot administer medication or other treatments or give medical advice.[1][2] An individual must complete a training to work as a doula although trainings and certification processes vary throughout the world.[1][3][4][7] Some doulas work as volunteers and others are paid for their services by their clients, medical institutions or other private and public organizations, and have varying degree of professionalization.[4][8] The contributions of doulas during reproductive experiences and end-of-life care have been studied and have shown to benefit their clients.[4][9][10][11] For example, birth doulas providing continuous labor support may increase likelihood of vaginal birth while decreasing likelihood of cesarean birth, decrease need for pain medication during labor, and improve women's perceptions of their birth experiences.[12][13] The benefits of doulas providing support during other types of reproductive health or end-of-life experiences have been less well studied but may improve an individual's experience with medical care or help an individual cope with these types of health transitions.[14][15][4][16]

History and etymology[edit]

Doulas in reproductive health[edit]

Doulas first emerged from the grassroots natural birth movement in the United States in the 1960s when women began desiring unmedicated, low-intervention births and began to have friends and others with formal or practical knowledge about childbirth provide them with support during pregnancy.[17] The term doula was first used in a 1969 anthropological study conducted by Dana Raphael, a protégée of Margaret Mead, with whom she co-founded the Human Lactation Center in Westport, Conn. in the 1970s.[18] Raphael suggested it was a widespread practice that a female of the same species be part of childbirth, and in human societies this was traditionally a role occupied by a family member or friend whose presence contributed to successful long-term breastfeeding.[18] Raphael derived the term from modern Greek (δούλα, doúla (pron. /ˈðula/), "servant-woman"), as told to her by an elderly Greek woman,[19] Eleni Rassias.[20] Raphael also described it as coming from "Aristotle's time," an Ancient Greek word δούλη meaning "female slave".[21]

Two physicians, Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, who conducted clinical trials on the medical outcomes of doula-attended births, adopted the term to refer to a person providing labor support.[1] In 1992, Doulas of North America (later DONA International) was co-founded by Klaus, Kennell, Phyllis Klaus, Penny Simkin, and Annie Kennedy, becoming the first organization to train and certify doulas.[22][23] The organization with the backing of the research of Klaus and Kennell helped lend credibility and professionalize doulas.[24] Due to the lobbying efforts of DONA International, the term doula was accepted into the American Heritage Dictionary and Oxford Dictionary in 2003, followed by Merriam Webster Dictionary in 2004.[23]

In 2008, activists in New York City began the Doula Project, to expand the role of the doula to other reproductive experiences beyond birth, grounded in reproductive justice framework.[25] The participants began working as abortion doulas and coined the term "full-spectrum doula" who support all pregnancy experiences and outcomes such as pregnancy termination, miscarriage and fetal loss.[26][25] Full spectrum doula groups may be found in major cities in the United States,[27] Canada and the United Kingdom, but prevalence elsewhere in the world is not well documented.

Types of support[edit]

Birth[edit]

Role[edit]

A doula focused on birth are also known as birth companion, birth coach or post-birth supporter, by providing continuous care before, during, or after in the form of information, advocacy, physical support, and emotional support.[28][29][30][31] A birth doula is also called a labor doula. A birth doula may accompany a pregnant woman during labor and birth in place of or in addition to a partner, family member or friend. Unlike these other birth companions, a doula has formal training in labor support.[28][29] The kinds of support provided during childbirth may include physical assistance and comfort (massage, maintaining a supporting posture or providing water), emotional support (providing company, encouragement or simply talking in a soothing tone of voice), acting as an advocate during childbirth (supporting the birthing woman's right to make decisions about their own body and baby to the medical team) and informational support (provide information about the birthing process and non-medication based forms of pain relief, and facilitating communication between their client and health providers).[29][32]

Most doula-client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. Before the labor, the doula and the family can develop a relationship where the pregnant woman and their support person (for example the father of the baby) feel free to ask questions and express fears and concerns, and discuss birth preferences.[33]

Benefits and limitations[edit]

Continuous support during labor provided by doulas has been associated with improved outcomes for both birthing women and babies, including shorter delivery, fewer caesarean sections and complications, the use of fewer medications and fetal extraction tools, less time in neonatal intensive care units, positive psychological benefits, more satisfying birth experiences, and increased breastfeeding.[34][32] Cross-country research on the effects of doulas on childbirth and postnatal care is complicated by the variety of settings, cultures and medical systems of individual countries and characteristics of patients.These benefits appear to be contingent on the doula providing continuous rather than intermittent assistance and having knowledge about the specific social and cultural setting within which their services are provided.[35] Doula care can help reduce health disparities of those with the greatest need including those with less education, lower incomes, less preparation for childbirth and those lacking social support .[36][37][38][39] Research also supports the effectiveness of female friends or relatives, after minimal training, as a low-cost alternative to professional doulas.[34][40]

In March 2014, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) put out a Consensus Statement titled "Safe Prevention of Primary Cesarean Delivery" in which it said, "Increasing [a woman's] access to non-medical interventions during labor, such as continuous labor support, also has been shown to reduce cesarean birth rates."[41] As more research has become available on the positive benefits of trained labor support provided by someone not employed by the hospital, in 2017 ACOG officially announced the need for all birthing individuals to have access to continuous labor support outside hospital staff, and said, "Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes."[42][43] The official committee opinion put out by ACOG also offers other recommendations that allow birthing women more choice and access to more supportive care. Doulas could be utilized to help achieve many of these recommendations as they move towards better collaboration.[44]

In 2017 the United Kingdom's Royal College of Midwives published a position statement on doulas, which supports the choice of the individual to hire a doula for their birth as long as the doula does not provide medical care.[45]

A 2018 study examined women's perceptions of doulas in several different countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Malawi, Sweden, Nepal, Russia, Canada, and the United States of America and found that having continuous support from a companion such as a doula was highly appreciated by most women.[46] However, perceptions may vary from country to country due to cultural factors, such as an emphasis on modesty and privacy, which may affect what kind of support a women prefers.[46]

Tensions between doctors, nurses and doulas have sometimes been described as a "turf battle,"[47] though it is also recognized that doulas and nurses can occupy complementary roles that provide opportunities for mutual learning and assistance.[48] Some hospitals have created internal doula training programs to reduce conflict between doulas and medical staff.[47][49]

Access to birth doulas[edit]

In the United States, doulas may be found in hospital, community-based programs as well as private practice or doula agencies and may be reimbursed by insurance companies or out-of-pocket by clients.[50][51] Because insurance companies typically do not cover the cost of hiring a doula, they are more popular among middle- and upper-class parents.[52][53] Since doula care has the potential to lower maternity costs and reduce health disparities, there is a push to cover doula services through Medicaid reimbursement programs. Three states, Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, have currently implemented reimbursement programs.[36] In 2019, New York State launched a doula pilot program for Medicaid reimbursement in Erie and Kings Counties.[54]

In the UK, the National Health Service and promotion of midwifery for low-risk pregnancies provide a continuity of care not available to North American pregnant individuals, but still are seeing an upswing in doulas. This pattern has been suggested to be a result of the lack of midwives available and a move to provide doulas to individuals at greater risk for poor outcomes.[55]

A 2019 study reviewed perceptions of labor companionship across mostly high income countries and found barriers that prevent doula care from being universally implemented.These challenges are due to a multitude of factors dealing with perception (providers not understanding the benefits or roles, other medical aspects being seen as more important) and logistics (gaps in policy, difficulty of integration, lack of training).[citation needed]

Training and certification[edit]

There is no law requiring doulas to become certified, however certification can benefit professional doulas by providing structured education prior to entry into the field, access to a mentor, opportunities for networking, and client confidence.[56] In North America, training generally takes the form of a two- to three-day seminar, and some experience with childbirth.[57] Trainees may have hands-on practice with various techniques used during childbirth, including maternal positions and movements, relaxation and breathing exercises and other measures that could be used for comfort. Certification can occur through organizations at various levels (local, national or international) and some require positive evaluations from medical professionals. Certification may also require, in addition to attending a training course, time spent working or learning about maternity care and childbirth classes and possibly a written exam.[58] Some doulas train through distance education.[48]

There is a movement to encourage certification, and provide documentation of it on consumer websites such as DoulaMatch where an individual can find certified doulas, childbirth educators, yoga instructors, and other birth-related professionals.[48] Doulas not trained by a formal organization can be controversial within medical settings due to a lack of formal medical education when a discussion regarding medical interventions in labor versus pursuing natural childbirth without an epidural or caesarean section arises.[47]

Major doula organizations that offer certification programs include Birth Works, Birthing from Within, Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA), DONA International, International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), and Hypnobirthing.[59] Because of the lack of standardization, doula organizations provide different courses with varying requirements and anyone can refer to themselves as a doula.[60] Doulamatch.net, an online referral page for doulas, has offered a list of items that students should look for as they begin looking for training. Amy Gilliland, a researcher on doula care and culture, also lists some qualities a training program should have.[61] Some theorists have stated that it may take college-level work or more in-depth online education in order to provide some of the communication skills that may be necessary.[62]

In 2019, New York State became the first state to pass a bill to certify doulas to lend legitimacy to the profession and to pave the way for Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government. Doulas in New York however have taken issue with the bill, having not been involved with the bill's writing, citing that state certification would make doulas more beholden to the formal medical system, be a hit to business if certification programs aren't approved by the state, and hurt community doulas from working with low-income individuals.[63][64]

Antepartum[edit]

An antepartum doula provides help and support to someone who has been put on bed rest or is experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. Emotional, physical and practical support can be provided by an antepartum doula in these circumstance.[citation needed]

Postpartum[edit]

Postpartum doulas provide educational support and practical support in the home in the first weeks and months after childbirth or after adding an infant to the family. The same doula often provides both birth and postpartum services.[28] Their services include a mixture of emotional support and practical help, such as infant care, breastfeeding support, information, advocacy and referral, partner support, sibling care, and household organization/work as the family adjusts to the addition of a new baby.[65] There is some evidence that postpartum doula support can increase breastfeeding and decrease postpartum depression.[32][66]

Other workers overlap in some of these services, such as maternity nurses, newborn care specialists, lactation consultants, and, historically, monthly nurses.

Full-spectrum and abortion[edit]

Full-spectrum doulas extend the role of a birth attendant and provide support for all reproductive experiences which connect the role to the larger reproductive justice movement.[3] This can include support for abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, queer family planning, adoption, and fertility as well as extending services to women, men, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.[3][67][68] Full-spectrum doulas often identify as activists as well as service providers and emphasize the human rights of their clients in the hopes of ending social stereotypes.[3] Abortion doulas focus on providing support to clients having an induced abortion. They provide emotional, physical, and informational support virtually or in person.[3][14]

End-of-life and critical care[edit]

End-of-life or death doulas care for critically ill adults in geriatric care,[69] and during death.[70] While some doulas may work independently or on a volunteer basis, others may work in association with a health care service, such as a palliative care service.[71] The roles of an end-of-life doula include not only physical tasks, such as assisting with posture or making the bed comfortable, but also emotional and psychological tasks, such as providing guidance and support.[71]

Integration of doulas into formal medical care[edit]

Doulas in reproductive health[edit]

Birth doulas[edit]

In 2010, a survey of professional Canadian doulas found that the common motivations for doula work include "desire to support women in childbirth, personal interest, and a wish to share their own positive birth experience with others" but didn't see the work as a means to create steady income.[72] Doulas of color also found motivation in providing care for their racial, ethnic and cultural communities so as to provide culturally competent care.[73] Volunteer doulas often saw doula work as a way to "help others, to establish a practice as an employed doula, and to have a route into nursing or midwifery."[74] A 2004 study of North American doulas identified challenges to doula work such as lack of support from clinicians, balancing doula work with family and other work obligations, and being on call.[75] Volunteer doulas also found challenges in individuals' poor understanding of the doula's role, lack of clear boundaries, and complex socio-economic issues.[74]

References[edit]

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