Delivering a baby is one of life’s most memorable moments. However, the hours and minutes leading up to the delivery can also be challenging.
A new volunteer birth doula program at NYU Winthrop Hospital is helping to provide mothers and their partners with additional support, along with expert clinical care, to help improve birthing outcomes. The program, conceptualized by Long Island Doula Association Inc. (LIDA), and midwife Melanie Sumersille, CNM, MSN, involves both physical and emotional support provided by specially trained doula volunteers. Working alongside the clinical team of doctors, nurses, and support staff in NYU Winthrop’s New Life Center, the doulas are committed to providing nonmedical services to comfort and support mothers before, during, and immediately after childbirth.
“NYU Winthrop Hospital was the first hospital on Long Island to institute a volunteer doula program,” says Sumersille, who was recently named a Fellow of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, a prestigious honor given to those who demonstrate exceptional leadership, clinical excellence, outstanding scholarship, and professional achievement. “There are many medical benefits to having such a program at NYU Winthrop.”
“A summary of published studies by the Cochrane database showed that doula support during labor can improve outcomes for women and their infants, including shorter labors and decreased cesarean delivery rates,” says Anthony M. Vintzileos, MD, chairman of NYU Winthrop’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Also, doula support can decrease regional analgesia as well as decrease five-minute Apgar score rates, a test which quickly evaluates a newborn’s physical condition to determine if there is an immediate need for additional care.”
“We also see increased rates of vaginal deliveries, and the promotion of breastfeeding and maternal–infant bonding positively impacted in patients who have a birth doula,” adds Sumersille.
Volunteer birth doulas at NYU Winthrop complete a multistep training and certification process with LIDA. After fulfilling the various requirements, the volunteer doulas are then certified and ready to support patients in a clinical setting.
The benefits of the program for patients are extensive. One patient recently commented how it was, “a very calming experience to have the doula present—talking with me, helping me through the pain of contractions, and making me comfortable throughout the labor process.”
Another patient, Jessica Holzer, remarked how grateful she was for the “extra set of hands” that helped her through some of the hardest parts of her labor.
“Having a doula in the room enabled my husband to be entirely focused on me, encouraging me throughout labor and delivery. The doula performed massage and helped me with my breathing techniques. This is such a worthy program that ensured a smooth delivery for both me and my baby. I hope more women are able to benefit from it and that more hospitals see this as a model initiative,” says Holzer.
NYU Winthrop Hospital currently has more than 20 doulas who are available to provide non-medical support to patients at no cost. NYU Winthrop, in conjunction with LIDA, has trained more than 60 labor support doulas who volunteer 100 hours over three-month rotations.