UNM Hospital debuts new birth companion program for disadvantaged women

A new program through the University of New Mexico Hospital is providing a helping hand in the delivery room for women who are in need.

Four years in the making, the hospital is now able to provide free birth companions, or doulas, to patients delivering at UNMH who are incarcerated or do not have insurance. Doulas do not do anything medical, but they give emotional support and offer mothers lots of information and physical help during labor.

The idea is that we’re trying to make accessible to a larger population the benefits of having a doula. Here at UNM, our volunteers are accessible for families who might really need the support, said UNMH Certified Nurse Midwife Tamara Gardner.

The birth companions are all volunteers and are on-call for a 24-hour period.

As a midwife, it’s important to be there to support women physically and emotionally, but in the hospital setting a midwife may have several patients on a shift and not be able to be there solely with the patient, said Gardner.

When a woman in labor is eligible for the free program, the on-call companion is brought in and helps provide support, using comfort measures, touch, movement and use of birth balls.

The hospital’s nurse midwives hope the research behind the benefits of doulas will reach a wider audience.

Women are shown to have shorter labors, they’re less likely to need pain medication and they have a reduced risk of needing vacuum, forceps, or cesarean birth, said UNMH Certified Nurse Midwife Katie Kivlighan. With this program, we hope that we can introduce these benefits to a wider range of our patients and hopefully maybe see some of those benefits for them, seeing reduced c-section rates, and greater satisfaction.

This week is World Doula Week. It was started to empower doulas all over the world and improve the physical, social and emotional health of women, their babies and families. World Doula Week kicks off on March 22 each year because of the Spring Equinox, which is seen as the return of fertility in a number of cultures.

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