CU Denver student Angela Bogart-Monteith (left) and her partner Misha hiking with their son
CU Denver student Angela Bogart-Monteith (left) and her partner Misha hiking with their son

When CU Denver student Angela Bogart-Monteith and her partner Misha found out they were pregnant with their son in 2016, they were overjoyed. Then the reality of planning and giving birth set in. The Bogart-Monteiths live hundreds of miles from their nearest family, so they decided to find local support: they hired a doula.

“Our hospital was really supportive of natural births,” Angela said, “but we felt like it would be good to have someone in our corner with more experience than we had.”

A doula is a childcare “coach” who traditionally supports a family during pregnancy, birth and in the period after birth. They serve in addition to midwives, nurses, and doctors—all of whom the future parents might meet for the first time at the birth—as a personal resource for the new family.

With more than 12,000 certified doulas worldwide as of 2016, according to Dona International, a doula certification organization, assisted births like the Bogart-Monteith’s are poised to become much more common. A new joint partnership between CU Anschutz, the College of Nursing (CON), and the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) may help make that potential a reality.

Not just for natural births

The Volunteer Doula Program is the brainchild of Jessica Anderson, a senior instructor at the CON, and Nicki Dunnavant, a Denver doula. Anderson conceived the idea for the program during her years as a certified nurse-midwife, and she is thrilled to launch the program. “CU Anschutz has been such a supportive, innovative environment to work in,” she said. “Since I pitched this project, I’ve never heard a ‘no.’”

Jessica Anderson, senior instructor at the College of Nursing
Jessica Anderson, senior instructor at the College of Nursing and co-creator of the Volunteer Doula Program

The program will create and maintain a volunteer staff of trained doulas to offer physical, emotional and informational support for delivering persons and their families at UCH. A goal of the program is to assist with the education of individuals who are interested in the doula profession or would like to elevate their practice to the next level. The program will serve two needs: education of doulas and additional support for our families who are interested in doula care while in labor. An on-call doula would arrive when called by UCH and provide labor, birth, and postpartum support entirely within the context of the hospital.

Despite the hospital setting, the doula’s services remain strictly non-clinical. “Doulas offer totally different support from the clinical staff,” Dunnavant said. “Their role is unique and does not replace nurses or providers.”

Support for families, the community, and CU

Because the CON’s program will use volunteer doulas, parents and families that would not have previously considered or could not afford to hire a doula will now have access to the extra care and attention that they offer. This support is not only a comfort, but may help the confidence of a person giving birth and improve the likelihood of initiating breastfeeding, as well as reduce complications, low birth weights and cesarean sections, according to a 2013 study published in The Journal of Perinatal Education.

What benefits families also benefits the community and doctors, nurses and midwives. Anderson points out that the program will provide immediate assistance to clinical staff in the form of top-notch trained doulas. Eventually, she’d like to see the program gain enough financial support to include collecting research on doulas in hospital settings.

Nicki Dunnavant, Denver doula and co-creator of the Volunteer Doula Program
Nicki Dunnavant, Denver doula and co-creator of the Volunteer Doula Program

Doulas, too, will benefit from the program by gaining increased experience and education in a hospital setting. Dunnavant is excited by the potential for mutual exchange between doulas and the medical field. The program will provide continuing education for those who have already completed doula training and initial training for those embarking on their doula journey. “The program offers benefits now and down the road,” she said. “In the future, there could be a hospital-based training program, education seminars and mentorships.”

‘Why wouldn’t everyone want a doula?’

The chance to fully incorporate trained doulas into the birth team within a hospital model has everyone excited. As Anderson and Dunnavant developed the program, they found overwhelming support from doulas, families in the community, CU Anschutz and, crucially, hospital staff. “The nurses and midwives are behind us,” Dunnavant said. “They are stakeholders in this concept and when parents learn what a doula does, their response is usually, ‘why wouldn’t everyone want a doula?’”

Learn More 

The Volunteer Doula Program will enroll doulas in early 2017 and launch at UCH in late spring. To learn more, please contact [email protected].

The Bogart-Monteith’s sum up their experience with a doula as “one of the best decisions we could have made.” With the launch of the Volunteer Doula Program more Colorado families than ever before will have access to a supportive, innovative environment for their births