Dr. Marshall Klaus, Champion of the Doula

By: Gail Tully |
2017-06-21 |

Dr. Marshall Klaus, the world renown pediatrician, who with the late Dr. John Kennel, researched the power of a birth companion (doula) and followed other’s research to discover the modeling that birthing women will sometimes even verbalize themselves!

Video above: Dr. Klaus in 2001 talking about the doula with doula Malik Turley
Malik Turley: “Dr. Klaus, I was at your talk yesterday about “Sensitive Period” and I was wondering if you have a couple minutes to go over that again for me?”
Dr. Marshall Klaus: “Sure… You know,  John Kennel had been working for about 30 years on the problem. One of the things that we saw in the beginning that made us wonder if this period was unusual is that if mothers got her babies just one hour after birth the mother was different for as long as nine days. We’d never seen this. They were much more responsive to their babies. They were more interested in their babies. Yet, we hadn’t given them any more education.
And then when the new studies came up, related with mothers having more support during labor, and the South African group seeing that those mothers were less depressed 6 weeks later, we began to see that if mothers had their babies 6 hours on day 1 and 6 hours on day 2,  after birth, remember down South, in Susan O’Connor’s data, there was less child abuse in the next 17 months and the study was randomized.
We think that because the woman is having a large amount of oxytocin, the love hormone, being secreted, and it’s going to the brain, that there’s a major change in the brain of the newly delivered mother. And that this was placed in an evolutionary way so that women would be very sensitive to their new babies. So they have to begin to take the baby because each baby is different.
And the mothers are staring at the babies and staring and staring.  They don’t take their eyes off baby. When I asked some of these mothers years ago, they said they were taking in the baby.
And I didn’t quickly realize what this meant. It means they are incorporating, by watching the baby closely, the needs of the baby.
What this means for physicians and nurses and doulas, is that you have a woman who is like a sponge [hence the Sensitive Period]. The more caring we are of this woman, she incorporates the care we give to her and it becomes the quality and the kind of care she gives her baby.
And I think that what stimulates this especially is the doula. Because when the doula holds the mother and rubs her back and even though the labor takes 6, 8, 10, 12 hours, you don’t leave her. You’re with her and even though you’re exhausted you stay with her.
Very few people have ever been cared for like that.
She begins to feel very warmly towards …you.
She takes in the way you cared for her, your gentleness and your caring, and then she applies this to the baby.
And the more caring we are, she rises. Six weeks later and two months later she is still different. So she incorporates your qualities and she applies it to her baby.
If you have your baby right after delivery, and it never leaves your bed those women in three different countries those women don’t give up their babies.
In Sweden, there’s a woman, Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, who has an idea of how this works. Right up to the time of delivery you have more receptors in your brain for oxytocin. And you get in a sense, an oxytocin high where you’re open and you’re open to new things.
When you’re in a Sensitive Period, it means you’re mobile, emotionally.
If you have a traumatic birth and you didn’t have a doula, or somebody was mean to you, it could be destructive, hurtful to you. But if you’re sensitively cared for, if have a difficult birth but a doula whose with you every minute, then you are able go up in
your functioning permanently, I’m talking about.
So, the Sensitive Period suggests we have to change obstetrical care to make it as humane as we can.
The doula is an ideal person to model, not only to the mother but you can model for physicians such as myself, and you can model for nurses for the obstetricians, and when we see the kind of care you’re giving her we’re going to start to think about, why are you doing this, you know.
And if we start to have more papers on the Sensitive Period then everybody that works with mothers will realize they are very powerful, but hopefully in a good way.
What’s good about the doula is you won’t do anything for the mother unless you check with her.
Malik Turley: Right.
Dr. Klaus: You may want to rub her back but she may want you to rub her arms. She may not want any rubbing at all. So you’re always checking with her. And we don’t do that enough; I don’t think doctors check with the mother enough. Give them choices.
The Canadians are ahead of us. The Canadian Royal Society of Obstetrics recommends that every mother have a continuous caring woman with them.
I would say every doula that we’ve seen is very gentle and caring. You have to remember you’re a powerful person because she is in this unusual state of consciousness.
Malik Turley: What do you see as the primary benefits from this caring influence in this Sensitive Period?
Marshall Klaus: One of the biggest things is that mothers that are cared for in the way you are caring for women there’s a chance she will be a lot less depressed. And there’s data to support that. Less anxious. And I think that she’ll take care of her baby using some of the care signals that you gave her.
I visited a close friend some years ago. I was surprised she did this well with a set of two active twins. And I asked her, ‘How did this all work out? Cause I knew you like to keep things in order, and babies don’t keep things in order.’
She said, ‘You know when I had a doula, the doula was just wonderful with me. And when I got more upset she became more relaxed and helped me through it. Now, when the twins get upset I try to help them through it. But I don’t get upset I become calm like my doula.’
Dr. Klaus looks at the camera, smiles, and says, “That’s real, by the way.”
Learn more on oxytocin.

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