Studies show that people who receive continuous support in labor, such as that of a doula, are more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births and less likely to have pain medication, epidurals, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, and Cesareans. Labors are shorter by about 40 minutes and babies are less likely to have low Apgar scores at birth. Mothers who receive doula support have less anxiety, lower average pain scores during labor, and a significant reduction in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience.
There are a few reasons for this.
1. Hospitals are typically for people who are sick or injured. Women who give birth in a hospital are neither of these, but are often subjected to the same institutional routines: high intervention rates, staff who are strangers, lack of privacy, bright lighting, and needles. This kind of environment may slow down labor and decrease a women's self-confidence. A doula acts as a buffer, creating a more positive, comforting atmosphere. A doula's support and companionship promotes the mother's self-esteem and confidence to birth her baby.
2. Doulas are a form of pain relief in themselves. A birthing person feels less pain when a doula is present. This may help avoid epidural anesthesia, which often leads to additional medical interventions including Pitocin augmentation and continuous electronic fetal monitoring.
3. The unique support that a doula provides a women while she's in a vulnerable state allows for a surge in oxytocin. This oxytocin release decreases stress reactions, fear, and anxiety, and increases contraction strength and effectiveness. In addition, the calming effect of a doula’s presence increases the mother’s own natural pain coping hormones (beta-endorphins), making labor feel less painful.
For information on the Evidence on Doulas, visit Evidence Based Birth.