World Doula Week starts on Thursday 22 March and, while I expect many of you will shrug your shoulders, raise an eyebrow and think 'World What What Week?!', this new survey from Doula UK might just change your mind.
With over 500 members, Doula UK represents the largest number of doulas in the UK. Its doulas work with women and their families to prepare for the birth of their baby, helping them to fully explore their options, make informed decisions and support them as they adjust to life with a newborn baby.
Their survey of nearly 1200 doula-supported births showed that women who used doulas needed significantly less medical intervention during the birth process and had greatly increased breastfeeding success compared against the national average. Of the doula-supported families, 93% attempted breastfeeding and 70% were still exclusively breastfeeding after six weeks. The figures are significantly higher than the latest national figures from the Department of Health, which show only 74.1% of new mums attempt breastfeeding, and just 47 per cent are still exclusively breastfeeding at six weeks.
The survey also showed that only 12% of doula-supported births required medical interventions, such as the use of forceps, ventouse or Caesarean sections, compared to the latest national figures of 37.3%.
For those of us in the birth world the figures aren't at all surprising. Bridget Baker, Board Member and Head of Doula Mentoring at Doula UK, explains that the results are not in isolation: "Our survey findings echo previous research in to the substantial benefits of doula support during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. Whatever path a birth takes our doulas always work with the midwives and other medical professionals to ensure that parents are kept fully informed about the choices that are available. This allows parents to confidently make decisions with which they are comfortable with in a nurturing and positive environment."
A recent Cochrane review of the benefits of continuous support in labour (covering 21 trials and over 15000 women) found a range of benefits of having a support person present during birth. These benefits included lower Caesarean rates, higher AGPAR scores for babies and improved maternal satisfaction levels. Importantly no negatives were found and the results were most significant when the support person was not a member of the woman's social network, not a member of hospital staff and had some training and experience in supporting women through labour and birth.
With unwanted intervention rates rising and breastfeeding support often lacking it is understandable that families are turning to doulas during the childbearing year. Though Doula UK is keen to make it clear that "our doulas support any kind of birth and are not there to change outcomes " (something I heartily agree with) a crucial by-product of consistent, unconditional, experienced, calm and nurturing support is an environment which more-often enables a woman to give birth without intervention and breastfeed her baby for as long as she wants.