The Importance of Doulas

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Doula impact on birth outcomes explored in recent review.

A recent review by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) showed that doula support in pregnancy is linked to shorter labor, fewer premature births, higher birth weight babies, fewer complications and an increase in breastfeeding. To learn more about these findings and doulas in general, we connected with Ann Donnelly, RN, BSN, MA, Vice President of Care Management for Priority Health.

First, we asked Donnelly about doulas themselves and the work they do.

"Doulas are trained professionals who provide physical, emotional and informational support to pregnant women and their families before, during and after childbirth," Donnelly explained, noting doulas are not medical providers, and do not replace medical providers, but they work alongside them as part of the birthing team. "Doulas can help with comfort measures, coping techniques, communication, advocacy and education. They can also offer continuous care and companionship throughout labor and delivery, which can make a big difference in how women experience birth."

There are different levels of training and certifications for doulas, depending on the professional organization they belong to.

"Doulas are educated on topics such as childbirth, lactation support, postpartum care and cultural competency," Donnelly said. "Doulas also need to complete a certain number of supervised births and evaluations to become certified. Some doulas may even have other qualifications or specializations, such as trauma-informed care or bereavement care."

At Priority Health, Donnelly shared, doula care is covered for members enrolled in a Medicaid health plan.

"We have an ever-growing network of doulas across the state as part of our provider network," Donnelly said, noting several reasons why doula support during pregnancy is linked to better birth outcomes. "One reason is that doulas can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can have a negative impact on the health of the mother and the baby. Doulas can also provide education and guidance on healthy behaviors, such as nutrition, exercise and prenatal care, which can improve the chances of having a full-term and normal-weight baby."

Another reason is that doulas can help with pain management and labor progression, which can lead to shorter and smoother labors, fewer interventions and lower rates of cesarean sections.

"Doulas can also facilitate bonding and breastfeeding, which can benefit the physical and emotional well-being of both the mother and the baby," Donnelly said.

These positive outcomes are being recognized by the community, with support of doulas in West Michigan growing in a number of ways.

"Some local hospitals and health systems have recognized the benefits of doula support and have partnered with doula organizations to offer doula services to their patients," Donnelly shared. "At Priority Health, we cover doula care for our Medicaid members, making it accessible. Additionally, some community groups and nonprofits, such as Strong Beginnings, have provided training and funding for doulas, especially those who serve underserved and marginalized populations."

Some may think doula services are only for those who want a natural or unmedicated birth, when that's far from the truth.

"Doulas can support people regardless of their preferences and choices for pain relief, interventions or delivery methods," Donnelly said. "Doulas do not judge or impose their own opinions on their clients; they respect and honor their wishes and needs Doulas can also help people navigate the options and information available to them and advocate for their rights and preferences. Whether someone wants an epidural, a cesarean, or anything in between, a doula can be a valuable source of support and empowerment."

Those interested in finding doula services in West Michigan have a number of options available to them.

"One way is to ask for referrals from friends, family or health care providers who have had positive experiences with doulas," Donnelly said. "Another way is to search online directories or websites, such as the MDHHS Doula Registry. These resources can provide information on the credentials, services, fees and availability of doulas in the area."

A third way, Donnelly explained, is to search for events or meetings in your area where doulas and expectant parents can meet and connect.

"These events can offer an opportunity to learn more about doulas and their role in pregnancy and birth, as well as to interview potential candidates," she said. "Finding a doula that matches one's personality, needs, and budget can take some time and research, but it can be a rewarding and beneficial process for both the parent and the doula."

If a doula is interested in becoming part of the Priority Health network, they can enroll online. Priority Health members can search for in-network doulas by logging into their member portal and searching the Provider Directory.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.


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