Category Archives: Why have a doula?

I Will Miss Dr. Kennell

Dr. Kennellweb“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”

-Dr. John H. Kennell


I’m missing Dr. John Kennell, who died recently after a long illness. I met him when he came to speak at our 2003 doula conference. My family was lucky enough to have dinner with him and talk to him, about birth among other things. He co-wrote The Doula Book and was a founder of our current doula movement. He was an indomitable spirit who encouraged me and Jan Mallak in our quest to write our own doula book. When we did, he graciously wrote our foreword and endorsed our book. He was a founder of Doulas of North America and a great believer in the helping hand of a doula in labor. As a doula myself, I know he will be missed.


DONA’s website says this about Dr. Kennell:

“It is with great sorrow that we share the news of the August 27, 2013 death of one of our beloved founders, John H. Kennell, MD. A pediatrician, Dr. Kennell and his colleague, neonatologist Dr. Marshall Klaus, conducted the earliest controlled trials examining the effects of continuous support on labor outcomes. They noted impressive results.

In 1992, Drs. Kennell and Klaus, Phyllis Klaus, Penny Simkin and Annie Kennedy founded Doulas of North America (now DONA International) to train and certify labor support companions. His famous quote about doulas has inspired families and birth advocates worldwide: “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” (1998)”

Here is a link to the short video, The Essential Ingredient,: Doula, which has Dr. Kennell speaking about the doula movement.



The Starfish Principle

Starfish on beach

Why continuous doula support is so helpful for making labors easier and more enjoyable has been studied quite closely. I have a theory of my own. I think it has to do with the Starfish Principle. You can find the starfish story in our book: Doulas’ Guide to Birthing Your Way. The basic idea is that a young girl finds a beach covered with starfish far from the water. She sees they will die unless they get back into the sea. She starts to throw the starfish back, one at a time. Her mother tells her not to bother, she can’t possibly save them all. But the daughter is determined, she can save some, one starfish at a time.

As doulas we only have one client at a time. Therefore, how that one labor goes really makes a difference — to us! There is something special about having a small sample size. You can make a big difference to one woman. It is harder to make such a big difference to many women.

Because she is our one birth, this month, this week, this day, we work as hard as possible to make a difference for her. As we make a big difference for her, we enjoy that big win, too. Just as we are one for her, she is one for us. Her joy in meeting her baby is our joy. Her success in breastfeeding is our joy as well.

I learned early on that I can’t be at all the births all the time, even just the Pittsburgh births. There are way too many! But I can be at one special birth to one special mom and dad. And I can make a difference!

Magee is Reducing Inductions and Cesarean Births

The Post-Gazette recently wrote that maternity care costs should be reduced. One of the innovators is Magee Hospital. From that article:

“About one-fourth of deliveries are now electively induced before the baby has reached full term (39 weeks). Yet research has shown that even babies born a few days too early are more likely to have problems such as developmental delays. Moreover, labor inductions before 39 weeks are more likely to result in expensive and risky C-sections, and the baby is more likely to spend time in an expensive neonatal intensive care unit.
These unfortunate trends can be reversed.
For example, a team of physicians and nurses at Pittsburgh’s Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC, using “Perfecting Patient Care” training they received from the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, reduced the rate of early elective inductions by 64 percent and reduced the frequency of C-sections in elective inductions by 60 percent. They won the Fine Award from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in recognition of their cutting-edge work.”

They won for their cutting-edge work of reducing the number of surgical births, ironic indeed, but good. Another way to reduce costs is to have more doulas at births. Studies have shown over and over again that doulas reduce the percentage of interventions such as cesareans, epidurals, pitocin and instrument assisted births. Doulas are a great cost-cutter and if insurance paid for doulas, they would be overall reducing maternity care costs by a large margin.

Read more:


Doulas — Keepers of the Faith

Because our job as doulas is to support you during your birth, we become the keepers of the faith in your ability to birth vaginally. Most mothers can birth vaginally, but most mothers also give birth in hospitals in the U.S. While you labor, it is very hard to keep your goal in mind and to keep your faith in view. Doulas do that. We believe in your abilities as a birthing woman and in your ability to be a wonderful mother. We encourage you and keep encouraging you, no matter what.

Your partner will support you and cares for you, but probably hasn’t seen as many births first-hand as your doula has. Your caregiver, Doctor or midwife, will be in charge of your health and the baby’s health and your nurse will have to chart. Your doula only has you as a person and as a mother, in mind. Are you tired, scared or just unsure? Your doula will help you renew your determination. She will help you keep the faith, through the work of your labor and  through the hours of your birth. You can lean on her, she will support you.

Year-End Round Up

Here are the reader’s favorite posts for this year:

The first was the three part series on the components of breastmilk. Human breastmilk is a complex and living food. Its benefits are irreplaceable by formula. Women who breastfeed their babies have my support and I hope they have yours as well.

Also popular is an article about why you should hire a doula if you have hired a midwife already. Where I describe how doulas complement the care that midwives give to pregnant women.

Women have also looked at the post of  nursing lying down quite a lot. It is a skill that helps mothers to get more sleep. Sleeping better means it is easier to mother.

I hope the new year brings to new mothers the support they need and lots of laughter while they enjoy their babies. I offer my deepest appreciation to every mother who read our book and liked it. Thank you all!