Birth and postpartum doulas do not need to be scientists or researchers to do their work. According to DONA International, doulas provide physical, emotional, and informational support to families during pregnancy, labor, birth and the postpartum period. In some ways, we are the Jacks and Jills of all trades. A little of this, a little of that, all within the scope of a doula’s practice. Part of the responsibility of our profession is to be current and aware of best practice as it applies to maternal infant health.

There are times when it is very useful to have a clear understanding of current best practice and the research that forms the foundation of these obstetrical practice recommendations. We may be referring clients to resources, we may be helping clients to understand the research or we simply may want to have clarity and understanding for our own knowledge. The internet is a big place, full of rabbit holes and misinformation. Once a doula finds a solid source, there is much to confuse them as they tease apart the information, try and decipher the statistics and get down to what the research really says. I have to confess, statistics intimidates the heck out of me. I love it and I know I need to understand it, but gosh, it is so very hard for me. Each and every time. I often rely on experts to help me to be clear about what I am reading.

I cannot tell you how many times I refer to the website Understanding Research for my own education and learning. This website is owned and maintained by Andrea Lythgoe, a birth doula, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and a birth photographer. I find it invaluable.

According to the site, the purpose of Understanding Research is to be “a simple resource for birth professionals who want to learn to read the academic literature about birth.” There are three main sections:

  1. Learn to read research
  2. Learn to find research
  3. Learn to follow research

Each section provides direction for understanding how to read studies, where to find peer reviewed research (and what that means) and how to stay up to date on newly published work. There is step by step instructions on where to start on the site to begin the process of unraveling research and all the accompanying statistics. There is also a very handy glossary of terms having to do with research and statistics.

I often am reading a new paper and have the Understanding Research site open too, to help me understand what I am reading. If you are unsure of how to approach research studies, new information and current recommendations, I strongly encourage you to explore this site and use it as a guide.

I asked Andrea why doulas may find her site so beneficial.  She responded that she believes there are three reasons doula may benefit from her site.

Doulas frequently field questions from clients about studies in the news, and knowing how to find and critically read the actual study behind the news story can ensure that the client gets accurate information that is not sensationalized. Doulas who want to better understand what the research shows on a specific topic can learn to compare studies that have seemingly conflicting results and form their own conclusions. Finally, doulas can learn how they can keep up with the ever changing and evolving science surrounding the childbearing year.”

Another valuable resource that is available for free to anyone interested  is “Understanding Evidence-based Health Care: A Foundation for Action.” The United States Cochrane Center has made available free of charge, this online tutorial that can help you to learn how to best navigate and understand the resources contained in the Cochrane Library. The course is designed to help consumer advocates understand the fundamentals of evidence-based healthcare concepts and skills.

Doulas are not required to have a deep understanding of research, but being able to locate information, read a research paper, understand study results and determine how they might be applicable to maternal infant health and our clients is a valuable skill. These two resources are great places to start.

What challenges do you have when it comes to finding, reading and understanding research? What tools do you use to help yourself to climb this steep learning curve? How can the DONA International organization, help you to develop these skills. Let me know in the comments section below.