Background: Data collected on more than 12,000 women in 15 randomized controlled trials provide robust evidence of the beneficial effects of doula support on medical outcomes to childbirth. The objective of this paper was to examine the association between doula support and maternal perceptions of the infant, self, and support from others at 6 to 8 weeks postpartum. The doula was a minimally trained close female relative or friend.
Methods: Six hundred low-risk, nulliparous women were enrolled in the original clinical trial and randomized to doula support (n = 300) or standard care (n = 300). The mother-to-be and her doula attended two 2-hour classes about providing nonmedical, continuous support to laboring women. For the secondary study, presented here, research participants (N = 494) were interviewed by telephone using a 42-item questionnaire.
Results: Overall, when doula-supported mothers (n = 229) were compared with mothers who received standard care (n = 265), they were more likely to report positive prenatal expectations about childbirth and positive perceptions of their infants, support from others, and self-worth. Doula-supported mothers were also most likely to have breastfed and to have been very satisfied with the care they received at the hospital.
Conclusions: Labor support by a minimally trained female friend or relative, selected by the mother-to-be, enhances the postpartum well-being of nulliparous mothers and their infants, and is a low-cost alternative to professional doulas.