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And now we have a word of the cost of childbirth. New research suggests that the services of a doula, a sort of pregnancy and birth coach, can save nearly $1,000 per birth by preventing costly complications. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The role of a doula's been around for years, starting back in the days when there was no hospital to go to.
STELLA DANTAS: Where were people delivering? They were delivering in their home.
NEIGHMOND: With help from family or friends, says obstetrician Stella Dantas. But today's doulas aren't necessarily relatives. They're hired by mothers-to-be. They don't make medical decisions. But Dantas, who's with the Kaiser Northwest Permanente Hospital System, says they still help smooth the often difficult process of pregnancy and childbirth. In the study, researchers looked at when doulas were involved and when they weren't. Katy Kozhimannil, with the University of Minnesota, headed the research, which found doulas lowered the rate of premature birth by 22 percent.
KATY KOZHIMANNIL: Premature birth is actually the largest contributor to infant death, so any intervention that can be identified, that can really move the needle on preterm birth, is one that's important for a whole range of health reasons.
NEIGHMOND: Kozhimannil also found women who worked with doulas had lower rates of C-sections. Now, her study didn't explore why women had healthier outcomes, but she says both mothers and doulas talk about the trust built over the course of a pregnancy.
KOZHIMANNIL: Doulas provide informational support, emotional support, psychosocial support. And this type of support may be associated with reductions in stress, and stress is a known predictor of preterm birth.
NEIGHMOND: A potential downside - doulas may have different ideas than the medical team, pushing for a natural delivery, for example, when a C-section is necessary. Obstetrician Stella Dantas says she's rarely had that experience.
DANTAS: When it's working well, we're all working as a team. We're all communicating. We're all trusting each other, and we want what's best for the patient and the baby.
NEIGHMOND: Doulas often don't stop with childbirth. Many continue on helping the new mother learn how to breast-feed and care for her newborn.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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