Doulas are trained in providing emotional and physical support before, during, and after the birth process. Their support and expertise have been shown to improve labor and birth outcomes and reduce complications. By providing guidance and assistance in the postpartum period as well, doulas can ease an employee's transition back to work and provide invaluable emotional and mental support.

So how can employers facilitate these positive birth outcomes for their employees? A good place to start is by offering doula services as an employee benefit.

What are doulas?

Doulas are trained professionals who provide continuous support and advocacy throughout the birthing process. Unlike midwives who are registered nurses, doulas aren't clinical professionals able to prescribe medicine, but they provide valuable physical and emotional support.

Doulas typically join the birthing person in their second or third trimester to answer questions about the birthing process and develop a birth plan. During labor, the doula can be present as a trained advocate to communicate with medical staff and facilitate comfort and support through touch and massage. Postpartum, doulas can help with breastfeeding education and offer practical support, teaching families how to care for their newborn baby.

Studies show that doula support reduces the need for C-sections and pain medication, thus leading to quicker and simpler recovery for birthing parents. Doula guidance has been shown to reduce premature deliveries and length of labor, and the emotional support they provide often reduces anxiety and stress, especially in the labor process.

By providing support in the first weeks after childbirth, postpartum doulas fill a critical and often neglected need, assisting new parents through the stress and overwhelm of this transition time.

Virtual or in-person doulas?

While doulas commonly offer in-person care, virtual doula support has also been linked to improved birth outcomes and a more empowering birthing experience. In 2023, one in three U.S. counties were considered maternity care deserts, meaning they do not have a hospital or a birth center offering any obstetric care. It's estimated that nearly 7 million women live in these maternity care deserts. Especially for employees living in these areas, access to virtual doulas can fill care gaps and provide education and support that would otherwise not be accessible to them. 

Virtual doula care has been shown to reduce the odds of C-sections for Maven members, with especially impactful results among Black Maven users specifically. Black members who met with a doula at least twice on Maven had nearly 60% decreased odds of cesarean birth, compared to Black members who did not meet with a doula. 

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The benefits of doulas for employees and employers

Beyond providing labor support, birth doulas play an important role for families both before and after giving birth. The physical, emotional, and psychological advantages of doula support benefit not only employees and their family members but also their employers. With both in-person and virtual doula care being linked to more positive birth outcomes and a more positive childbirth experience, doula support can help employees recover more quickly from childbirth and ease the transition back to work.

Physical and emotional support during labor

Reduced anxiety

Doulas offer personalized care and emotional support before, during, and after labor and delivery. Chronic stress hurts both the parents-to-be and the baby and can cause premature births, difficulty feeding, and increased anxiety in the baby as well. Working with a doula to better understand the birthing process and different supports available can mitigate this stress, leading to healthier parents and babies. Doulas can also help reduce stress through physical care, like supporting specialized touch and massage.

Advocacy and communication

Doulas can also serve as an important liaison between the birthing person and the medical team, communicating needs and preferences to hospital staff and leading to a more satisfactory birthing experience. Research has shown that this role as a communication intermediary can be especially impactful for low-income women of color, with doula support allowing them to feel a greater sense of empowerment and ownership over their care.

Informational support and education

Prenatal education and birth plans

Doulas help make childbirth education accessible throughout pregnancy. They can provide information about the birthing process, potential risks, and possible interventions to help the birthing person make informed choices and a birth plan ahead of time.

A birth plan is a written outline of what a person wants their childbirth experience to look like. It can help employees feel in control and supported throughout the labor and delivery process. A birth doula can help employees not only create a birth plan but also communicate that plan to the medical team during childbirth. Since advance planning can help reduce not only risks but also costs, offering prenatal education as a benefit helps both employees and employers alike. 

Postpartum resources

Doula care often extends beyond the birthing process into postpartum support. Specifically, a postpartum doula can help improve breastfeeding success, cook meals, help the family adjust, and advocate for the birthing parent in their recovery. With postpartum depression affecting one in eight new mothers, postpartum doulas can provide invaluable emotional and psychological support during an isolating and transitionary time. 

As postpartum doulas provide much-needed support at home, employees might find returning to work after their parental leave more feasible. 84% of working mothers agree that postpartum and return-to-work support would make them more likely to stay at their company. Since one in three Latine women report subpar medical care during their return-to-work phase, this postpartum support can be a powerful way to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. 

Improved birth outcomes

According to a 2019 CHIPS Policy Brief by UW, "Doula-supported individuals are less likely to: have a cesarean birth, have a low birth weight infant, and give birth to a newborn with a low APGAR score (a metric used to determine if the newborn requires immediate medical attention after birth)." 

Since doulas can help improve birth outcomes through fewer interventions and holistic support, they often lead to reduced medical costs for employees and employers alike. For example, doula care can reduce the rate of C-sections and also shorten labor duration.

Additionally, postpartum doulas can provide crucial support to new parents and assist with newborn and family care, enabling employees to transition back to work more seamlessly.

Virtual doula care with Maven has supported employees with everything from health crises to giving birth across the world from family and support systems. “She was exactly how I imagined I wanted my doula to be,” Maven patient Carly said.

Enhancing accessibility and inclusivity

While doulas can improve outcomes for all birthing parents, their support can be particularly impactful for parents who are part of historically marginalized communities.

“In my role as a doula working with Black families, migrant families, non-English speaking families, and queer families, I have seen staff start speaking more respectfully to the birthing parent and their families because a doula is present,” says Maven Doula CE Durfee, MSN, CNM, ARNP, CLC, CD(DONA).

Many members of historically marginalized communities are not able to receive care from providers who share their same background, but historically marginalized communities are better represented among doulas. Close to 40% of doulas are Black, Latine, Asian, or AIAN, and 6% identify as LGBTQIA+.

This care matching is shown to lead to more engaged patients, greater willingness to pursue preventative treatments, and better understanding of health risks and complications. By offering doula care to employees, employers can promote a more inclusive workplace that specifically supports LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC employees.

Maven can help

As employers and health plans look to provide more equitable support to all employees and members, increasing access to doula care should be a top priority. Maven members can meet with doulas and other reproductive health specialists virtually, increasing access and equity for employees regardless of location.

As you look to provide more equitable care for your employees, Maven, the leading women and family benefits platform, is here to help. Schedule a demo with our team today to see how Maven can help you integrate doula support into your benefits program.

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