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Study Suggests Doulas Make Births Safer — & Cheaper

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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
For some women, having a doula (a.k.a. a non-medical hired hand who helps support the mother during pregnancy and childbirth) can be the difference between the birth experience they always dreamed of and extreme stress. And now, new research suggests that doula care can help save money, too.

For the study, published earlier this month in the journal Birth, the researchers looked at two groups of pregnant women: 1,935 participants who had accepted doula services funded by Medicaid, and another 65,147 participants who were covered by Medicaid, but did not receive doula services.

Their results showed that, overall, women who opted for doula services were significantly less likely to have preterm or cesarean births. And, perhaps thanks to that reduction in those types of births, the women who had doulas also had cheaper pregnancies — by an average of $986 each.

These results suggest some serious benefits to having a doula on your side, and the authors argue that making doulas more available to all women would be even more beneficial. "Facilitating financial access to prenatal doula support should be given serious consideration by Medicaid programs and managed care organizations concerned with reducing overall rates of preterm birth and cesarean delivery and decreasing associated costs," they write.

It's also possible that the women who chose to have doulas were less likely to have preterm or cesarean births anyway, for reasons totally unrelated to their doulas. These factors could include having higher incomes and simply being more proactive about their healthcare. For instance, the group with doulas had lower rates of diabetes and hypertension than those who did not have doulas.

Although having a doula isn't guaranteed to give you a more pleasant birth experience — there's always the possibility that someone's training isn't up to snuff or that you'll disagree on some crucial issues. (And because a doula isn't a doctor, nurse, or midwife, he or she doesn't have that much power over what happens in the delivery room.) As with everything else in your pregnancy, the most important thing is that you're picking — and that you have the chance to pick — the options that are right for you.
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