The presence of a doula—an experienced non-medical female companion who provides continuous labor support, including massage, to the expectant mother—benefits the mother and labor process, according to a new study in the journal “Birth.”

Over a five-year period, 224 of a group of 420 pregnant women in their third trimester were randomized to have a doula accompany them during labor, and 196 women did not receive this intervention.

When a doula arrived shortly after hospital admission and remained with the woman throughout her labor and delivery when compared with the group without a doula:

• Cesarean delivery rates decreased by 12 percent
• the need for an epidural dropped by 11 percent
• the need for a cesarean after induced labor decreased by 46 percent

Support from the doula included close physical proximity, touching and eye contact with the laboring woman, and teaching, reassurance and encouragement of the woman and her partner during the birth.

On questionnaires administered the day after delivery, 100 percent of couples with doula support rated their experience with the doula positively.