Doulas: Not Just for Hippie Moms

Doulas aren't just for holistic, wheatgrass-drinking, and yoga-loving moms anymore. Find out why there has a been a rise in the popularity of doulas through the years.
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You may think the only women who hire doulas are the crunchy-granola types, but that's not the case: It seems more and more women are hiring doulas these days. Although it's difficult to say how many certified (and noncertified) doulas there are, the number has increased within the past decade. According to DONA International, one of the oldest and largest doula associations in the world, more than 4,000 birth and postpartum doulas are currently certified, though more than 6,500 birth and postpartum doulas have been certified to date -- which is more than triple the number certified in 2002. Why do an increasing number of women want to have doulas? "Once women learned there was someone out there to help them achieve the most satisfying birth experience that they could, they wanted to seek that kind of support," says Sunday Tortelli, president of DONA and a birth doula in Cleveland. Here are four reasons our society has embraced doulas more through the years.

We Are More Open-Minded About Doulas

This isn't the 1960s anymore, and lifestyle choices that were once considered hippie-dippy or alternative (health food, yoga, living "green," doulas, natural birth) are now more common and accepted by our culture. "Although doulas are available to work with women from all subsets of society, most of them are hired privately. But there are some community-based doula programs, grant programs and volunteer programs that provide services to women of limited means," Tortelli says. "There's no limitation to which types of families want to work with a doula. Women planning homebirths, with absolutely no medical interventions use doulas. So do women who went through assisted reproduction, who have complicated or high-risk pregnancies, who plan to use epidurals for pain relief, and who schedule an induction or cesareans," Tortelli says. "Women exploring every birth and postpartum option have sought the services of a doula."

Elizabeth Pondelik, of Rocky River, Ohio, a mother of three girls, agrees. "I don't consider myself 'crunchy,' especially when it comes to medicine," she says. "I was a kindergarten teacher before having my girls, and my husband is a very analytically minded chemist. We live a stereotypical suburban lifestyle, we don't buy organic, and our kids are fully vaccinated. But we decided to hire a doula after our first birth didn't go as expected, and we felt that a doula could help us have a more pleasant experience the second time around." And Pondelik says she isn't the only one who feels that way. "I have even met several labor and delivery nurses who chose to hire doulas after seeing how much help doulas gave their patients," she says.

We See Increased Media Coverage on Doulas

"Thanks to the explosion of information available in the media and online, doulas are now depicted as a typical part of the childbirth experience," Tortelli says. There's no question that we're exposed to nearly every type of media these days and we consume it in different ways. We download movies in an instant and watch them on mobile devices, and we have access to hundreds of TV channels, all of which can teach us different aspects about society that we might not have known anything. Doulas are no exception -- they have been mentioned by TV characters and celebrities on reality shows (A Baby Story, The Rachel Zoe Project), scripted shows (Bones, The Gilmore Girls), and talk shows (Chelsea Lately, Today).

In 2008 Nicole Kidman appeared on Oprah and mentioned having a doula for the birth of her first daughter, Sunday Rose, with husband Keith Urban. Pop culture and mainstream news sites such as People, The Huffington Post, and the Celebrity Baby Scoop blog reported the news. These sites have also written about the rise of doulas and profiled other celebrities sharing their doula experiences. Actress-turned-talk-show-host Ricki Lake helped give doulas more exposure and a big publicity boost in her documentaries The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born, which featured celebrities such as Cindy Crawford, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Gisele B?ndchen, and Christy Turlington Burns talking about doulas. Since the original film debuted at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, more than 3 million people have seen it, while more than a million have viewed the 2012 four-part More Business sequel.

We Admire Celebrities Who Love Doulas

It's no secret that A-listers have a huge influence on what becomes popular, including fashion trends and baby names. Latham Thomas, a labor support doula in New York City and founder of Mama Glow (mamaglow.com) who worked with fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff and actress Tamera Mowry, believes that women are certainly influenced by fanous names who have embraced doulas. "It seems having a doula is now the chic addition to your birth team," Thomas explains. "I get calls from all types of women who have heard about doulas but want to learn more." Media coverage of an actress's doula helps get the word out, which can appeal to women who admire the celebrities and want to be friends with them. So if Alyson Hannigan (who some moms would totally want to connect with!) had a doula, it seems like something they should consider, too. There's also the glamour factor -- knowing that Nicole Kidman hired a doula certainly makes it seem appealing to women who want to emulate a high-profile lifestyle. After all, we buy clothing, perfumes, and other products promoted by celebs, so why not hire doulas like they do, too?

We Have Scientific Proof of Doula Benefits

In the past decade or so, multiple studies have discovered that including doulas as part of the birth experience can be beneficial for women. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that when women had continuous doula support during labor, they were 40 percent less likely to need a C-section. As a result, labor takes less time, and that, in turn, reduces the need for medication such as epidural anesthesia, analgesics, and Pitocin, and the use of forceps or vacuum extraction. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, moms who hire doulas are more likely to have their breast milk come in within 72 hours after delivery; they are also more likely to still be breastfeeding at 6 weeks, compared with new moms who didn't opt for doula support.

Still another study, published in the 1999 Journal of Women's Health and Gender Based Medicine, showed that women with doula support have a reduced chance of experiencing postpartum depression. (And all these benefits could lead to financial savings in the long run.) As more studies come out that reveal the beneficial aspects of doulas, more families will consider hiring one. "A couple I worked with said that as they researched their options for labor and birth, they knew they wanted a safe birth with as few interventions as possible and they wanted the ability to breastfeed immediately after birth, with no mother-baby separation," Tortelli says. "When they learned that a doula could help them achieve their goals, they knew that hiring one was the right decision."

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