Effects of psychosocial support during labour and childbirth on breastfeeding, medical interventions, and mothers' wellbeing in a Mexican public hospital: a randomised clinical trial

Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1998 Oct;105(10):1056-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.1998.tb09936.x.


Object: To evaluate the effects of psychosocial support during labour, delivery and the immediate postpartum period provided by a female companion (doula).

Design: The effects of the intervention were assessed by means of a randomised clinical trial. Social support by a doula was provided to women in the intervention group, while women in the control arm received routine care.

Setting: A large social security hospital in Mexico City.

Participants: Seven hundred and twenty-four women with a single fetus, no previous vaginal delivery, < 6 cm of cervical dilatation, and no indications for an elective caesarean section were randomly assigned to be accompanied by a doula, or to receive routine care.

Outcome measures: Breastfeeding practices, duration of labour, medical interventions, mother's emotional conditions, and newborn's health.

Methods: Blinded interviewers obtained data from the clinical records, during encounters with women in the immediate postpartum period, and at their homes 40 days after birth. Relative risks and confidence intervals were estimated for all relevant outcomes.

Results: The frequency of exclusive breastfeeding one month after birth was significantly higher in the intervention group (RR 1.64; I-C: 1.01-2.64), as were the behaviours that promote breastfeeding. However, the programme did not achieve a significant effect on full breastfeeding. More women in the intervention group perceived a high degree of control over the delivery experience, and the duration of labour was shorter than in the control group (4.56 hours vs 5.58 hours; RR 1.07 CI (95%) = 1.52 to -0.51). There were no effects either on medical interventions, mothers' anxiety, self-esteem, perception of pain and satisfaction, or in newborns' conditions.

Conclusions: Psychosocial support by doulas had a positive effect on breastfeeding and duration of labour. It had a more limited impact on medical interventions, perhaps because of the strict routine in hospital procedures, the cultural background of the women, the short duration of the intervention, and the profile of the doulas. It is important to include psychosocial support as a component of breastfeeding promotion strategies.

PIP: Studies in numerous countries have documented the positive contributions of doulas--women experienced in childbirth who provide continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to women before, during, and just after childbirth. The present study, conducted in a Mexican Institute of Social Security public hospital, explored the hypothesis that psychosocial support from a doula increases exclusive and full breast feeding by improving the mother's emotional status, shortening the duration of labor, and decreasing medical intervention. 724 women with no previous vaginal delivery and no indications for cesarean section delivery were randomly assigned to be accompanied by a doula (n = 361) or to receive routine care (n = 363). Blinded interviewers obtained outcome data from the clinical records, encounters with mothers in the immediate postpartum period, and home visits 40 days after delivery. The frequency of exclusive breast feeding 1 month after birth was significantly higher in the intervention group than the control group (12% vs. 7%; relative risk (RR), 1.64; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.01-2.64). However, the program did not achieve a significant effect on full breast feeding (37% and 36%, respectively). The duration of labor was shorter in the intervention group than the control group (4.56 vs. 5.58 hours; RR, 1.07; 95% CI, -1.52-0.51). A significantly larger proportion of women in the intervention group than the control group perceived a high level of control over labor (79.8% vs. 77.1%; RR, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.03-1.27). There were no effects on medical interventions, maternal anxiety, self-esteem, perception of pain, maternal satisfaction, or newborn Apgar scores. Although the prevalence of exclusive breast feeding was low in both groups, these findings suggest that psychosocial support during labor and the immediate postpartum period should be part of a comprehensive strategy to promote breast feeding.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Apgar Score
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric / physiology*
  • Mexico
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Postnatal Care / methods*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / methods*
  • Self Concept
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors