August 4, 2006
Contact: Kaylyn Kendall Dines
Study Shows Childbirth Experience Can
Improved with the Help of a Friend
NEWARK — Women in labor who are accompanied by a female friend trained to provide support during the childbirth experience have better birth outcomes than women who do not have such assistance, according to a study led by a researcher at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
Della Campbell, an advanced practice nurse who is a research coordinator and a candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree at the UMDNJ-School of Nursing, was the principal investigator of the study which was recently published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing.
The randomized controlled trial studied labor and delivery experiences of 600 women who were pregnant for the first time. Half of the women were accompanied during labor by a female friend who had completed four hours of training as a lay doula. The remaining 300 women formed a control group that did not have this support. Women accompanied by their trained friend had significantly shorter labors, lower cesarean rates, and higher Apgar scores for their newborns. The Apgar test measures a newborn’s health factors including heart rate, breathing and activity.
“Doula” is a Greek word meaning woman caregiver. Professional doulas are trained and certified to provide continuous support to a woman during labor. During the study, 300 women were taught traditional doula supportive techniques to help their pregnant friends during childbirth. The lay doulas learned touch and massage techniques to use during labor and delivery and their curriculum also included lessons on anatomy, coping strategies, and listening skills.
“A doula is not a physician, nurse, or midwife and she does not provide any medical interventions in the labor room,” said Campbell. “However, she is trained to provide continuous uninterrupted emotional and physical support. This unique role of the doula sets her apart from any other model of support for a woman in labor.”
Fathers and family members were encouraged to accompany both groups of pregnant women during labor. The study found time in labor was reduced by an average of one hour for women who had a lay doula present, compared to women who did not. The cesarean delivery rate in the lay doula group was less than 11 percent compared with almost 16 percent in the control group. According to the Apgar test outcomes, overall newborn health ratings were two percent higher in the lay doula group.
Campbell’s study points to a lower-cost alternative that could benefit women who do not have access to or the funds to pay for a professional doula. “In four hours of semi-structured teaching, the selected female was provided with knowledge to serve as a lay doula and demonstrate a powerful, positive impact on the labor of her friend,” Campbell said.
The study, “A Randomized Control Trial of Continuous Support in Labor by a Lay Doula,” recently received the 2006 Outstanding Research Award from the Association of Women's Health, Obstetrics, and Neonatal Nursing. Other authors include: Marian Lake and Michele Falk, both of St. Peter’s University Hospital, and Dr. Jeffrey Backstrand, of the UMDNJ-School of Nursing.
UMDNJ is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and a school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.