One study was conducted with 724 first time mothers. Participants in the study were randomly assigned, half to be accompanied by a doula, the others to receive routine care.
This study concluded the mothers who had doula support in labor:
1. Were significantly more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at one month
2. Had shorter labor durations
3. Perceived a higher degree of control over their birth experience.
What could be the explanation for these improved breastfeeding results?
It may be because mothers who are supported and encouraged by doulas in labor feel confident and empowered and this confidence helps them on their breastfeeding journey.
Another factor to consider is that doulas provide immediate support after birth and that typically includes assisting mothers with their first breastfeeding session. Doulas also stay in touch with their clients in the immediate postpartum period to see that the family is transitioning well into parenthood. If additional assistance is needed with breastfeeding, doulas know the best lactation counselors to call on for assistance.
And another important point is that labor pain medications may affect birth outcomes and breastfeeding initiation.
Longer labors, vacuum or forceps deliveries, cesarean section, and separation of mother and baby after birth may lead to higher risk of difficulty with breastfeeding initiation (see The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol #15.)
Research tells us that continuous support in labor from a doula reduces the need for pain medication in labor, decreases the rates of cesarean section, and the use of vacuum or forceps in birth. Mothers that wish to go without pain medications often use other coping methods with the help of their doula. This can include: meditation, hypnosis, breathing, massage, position changes and more.
It is also necessary to state that women have different levels of pain tolerance. Fear and anxiety can also affect the ability to cope with labor. Suffering and severe stress can lead to a less satisfying outcome, which may have an effect on breastfeeding too (see The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol #15.)
Doulas 100% support women’s decisions to choose pain medication when this is their preference. Plenty of mothers that have chosen pain medications in labor have gone on to successfully breastfeed. Two hours of skin-to-skin, close follow-up and good support is recommended.
If breastfeeding is important to you, having a doula will benefit your goals. We are happy to count several certified lactation counselors on our team at Buddha Belly who are also birth or postpartum doulas ready and available to help you a positive experience.