Ahhh….a whole week to celebrate being a doula. It’s kind of fun to have an actual, honest-to-goodness date that is proclaimed as a time to showcase how wonderful doulas are. This still feels like a newer profession, and I wonder how many people know the beginnings of formal doula care?
Back in the 60’s, as women were starting to really rise up against the sterile, overly-medicalized practices surrounding birth, Marshall Klaus, John Kennell, and Phyllis Klaus began to study birth practices in many different cultures, and found that childbirth in industrialized cultures was “now lonelier and more psychologically stressful for both parents.”1
Then, they began to study the effect of bringing another woman into the labor room, and found the most dramatic results: with the presence of another woman in a labor room, the length of labor was reduced by 25%, requests for pain medication reduced by 60%, and the cesarean rate plummeted by 50%.
During the early years of these studies, they were exposed to the use of the term “Doula,” from Dana Raphael, who was studying the effects of an “individual, often female, who gives psychological encouragement and physical assistance to the newly delivered mother.”2 She was also noting how drastically improved birth was with this kind of attendant.
However, there were a few caveats: these nearly-magical benefits were realized the most when this additional support person was actually not part of the medical staff, and when she was there continuously for the duration of the woman’s labor. With both those caveats and the specific needs of a laboring mother in mind, they worked with Penny Simkin and Annie Kennedy to found DONA.
This Dream Team (Penny Simkin is one of my personal heroes) created the standard for doula training and certification, continued to publish studies showing the benefits of non-medical care, and started a whole movement. While there are a plethora of doula certifying agencies to choose from nowadays, DONA alone has certified over 12,000 doulas, and has become an international organization.
As this wonderful work has become more and more mainstream, even the medical community is taking notice and recommending doula care for laboring families. ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, came out with a study a few years back on Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery, in which they said (and I LOVE this): “one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula.”
And that’s kind of a “mic drop” moment. We’ve come a long ways, and it’s just awesome.
- The Doula Book, Klaus, Kennell, and Klaus, p.3
- The Doula Book, p. 4