Leidos Serves: Operation Doula provides maternal support for military mothers
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“It’s not unusual for a mom to show up at labor and delivery at Balboa Hospital completely by herself,” says military spouse and founder of Operation Doula, Maria Provencher.
Balboa Hospital is a naval hospital in the San Diego-metropolitan area that facilitates about 3,200 births per year. It also serves as the home for Operation Doula, the largest volunteer doula chapter of the Military Birth Resource Network.
Provencher says it’s common in the military community for new mothers to have a higher than average need for support in the labor and delivery room because of deployments and family separations that come with a military lifestyle. Operation Doula, created in 2016, provides professionally trained volunteer doulas -- specialized companions that are non-clinical -- to give the physical, emotional, and educational support that is needed in labor and birth at no cost to encourage smoother births and postpartum experiences.
A study in the Journal of Perinatal Education found that “doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a low birth weight baby and two times less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby.”
Elena Kostas, Director of Manufacturing for the Leidos Innovations Center (LInC), found out about Operation Doula through friends in the community. With a job that supports a U.S. Navy customer base, Kostas decided to get involved. While she is not one of the 60 doulas in the program, she assists with administrative work that Provencher notes as “critical” to the future of the program.
“Without support from people like Elena, the program will eventually fizzle out and die unless we have something a bit more substantial to continue on…Elena’s ongoing desire to continue is going to give [Operation Doula] legs,” says Provencher.
According to statistics reported by the Pentagon and published by the New York Times, babies born in military hospitals across America are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as babies born in civilian hospitals. Kostas notes that the number may be due to sheer volume or a number of other factors, but doulas can assist to make sure the mom is comfortable and there is good communication in the labor and delivery room. “It’s just inspiring to me to make sure that there’s good birth outcomes and good starts in life,” she says.
Doula support is not a service that hospitals typically provide through their medical staff, says Provencher, as hospital personnel are more “big picture-minded.”
“They take care of the mom and baby and they’re there to ensure their safety and health in a macro way. Doula support is more micro. While the doctors, midwives, and nurses are managing labor as a whole, we’re kind of managing one contraction to the next. It’s very much continuous moment-to-moment support, and it’s just a perfect complement to what they provide.”
In the future, Operation Doula strives to ensure coverage over the entirety of San Diego County and expand to Camp Pendleton, which sees about 2,000 births per year.
For more information on Operation Doula and how you can contribute, visit their website.