Research Sessions

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Research Sessions Given At Scholarly and Professional Conferences

These sessions are appropriate for large lectures, scholarly and professional conferences as well as small groups. For detailed session information scroll down or click a session below.

** have been presented at international conferences to excellent reviews.


The Doula Effect: How and Why Doulas Help Mothers Have Shorter Labors, Less Pain, and More Satisfying Births

Description: It is widely known that continuous doula care during birth shortens labor, with mothers experiencing less pain, having less interventions and greater birth satisfaction. What is unknown is why this “doula effect” exists and why it has not been imitated in research on midwives or nurses. In this informative, research based session, Gilliland presents her original thesis and dissertation research using the application of attachment theory to explain the “doula effect”. After hearing this presentation, Marshall Klaus, MD, one of DONA International’s founders, stated that it offered the best explanation for why doulas influence birth outcomes.

Research Abstract: Doula support practices of mothers during labor and birth are complex processes that involve attachment behaviors, therapeutic strategies, and communication skills. Similar to the infant relying on a primary caregiver as an attachment figure, the mother relies on the doula as a secure base during labor. In both situations the doula and caregiver are available for assistance; can accurately perceive her emotional needs; effectively represent her interests; are strong and capable physically and emotionally; and have resources that the mother or infant does not possess. Additionally, the rhythm and ritual of labor support set the stage for attunement between doula and mother, similar to the attunement process between mother and infant outlined by Daniel Stern.

This research is significant since it provides a strong theoretical basis why doulas are effective; namely that they provide a focus for attachment behavior and provide a secure base for the laboring mother. The doula as a secure base theory also offers a well developed explanation why nurses have been shown to be less effective than doulas in obtaining the same outcomes. Except in unusual situations, nurses and fathers are unable to fulfill many of these attachment functions for mothers. With further development, this may become the fundamental theory of doula support.

Objectives: By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain why the doula is a focus for the mother’s attachment behavior and how the doula is uniquely situated to meet a laboring mother’s attachment needs.
  2. Describe the five functions of a secure base during labor.
  3. Illustrate what attunement is and how the doula and mother work together to create this unique state of consciousness.

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Let’s Stop Trying to Turn Men into Women – Meeting the Real Needs of Pregnant and Laboring Fathers

Description: Men are in the midst of cultural change of redefining fatherhood. What hasn’t changed yet is the cultural assumptions of perinatal professionals towards men’s involvement in pregnancy and childbirth. Taking a biopsychosocial approach to understanding male behavior and needs during labor, Dr. Gilliland utilizes gender theory, highly regarded studies, and her own original research to increase the effectiveness of perinatal professionals. Participants can expect to comprehend male behavior more deeply by confronting their cultural assumptions, and bringing together their own experience with new knowledge.

Objectives: By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Review the transformation of paternal roles during childbirth from 1960 – 2010.
  2. Compare female and male communication styles that influence prenatal, postpartum and labor interactions.
  3. Trace a model of paternal influence on prenatal, labor and birth outcomes that is based on father’s unacknowledged emotional needs.
  4. Articulate relevant research on men’s experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
  5. Understand how men’s unique perspective and increased distress during labor can lead to paternal birth related PTSD.
  6. Illustrate the unique role of the childbirth professionals to enhance men’s natural stress coping responses and enhance couple intimacy and satisfaction during and after the birth experience..

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 From Lovers to Parents and Back Again: A Time of Shifting Sexual Identity

Audience: Birth Professionals

Description: All parents expect sexual adjustments during the postpartum period, however few report feeling prepared for the massive changes that occur. The birth experience may also have a psychological impact that shows up in a couple’s sexual relationship. Both birth and postpartum doulas are uniquely situated to fill the educational gap and provide postpartum support as parents work through these changes.

Objectives: By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain the subtle messages communicated to women about their bodies and sexual functioning during typical labor and birth experiences in North America.
  2. Restate the possible emotional and sexual impact on husbands and male partners of viewing medical procedures and childbirth on their wife or female partner.
  3. List birth procedures that affect sexual functioning and those that do not.
  4. Explain the sexual concerns of both parents during the first year postpartum.
  5. List strategies within the doula’s scope of practice that can assist with effective sexual adjustment.

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Birth Matters! How Denying the Sexuality of Birth Negatively Impacts Men and Women and What You Can Do About It

Audience: Marriage and Family Therapists, Sex Therapists

Description: Labor and birth affect sexuality in numerous ways, yet medical professionals and American culture often deny the sensuality of the experience. The consequences are often blamed on other sources. Understanding this as the source of pain, disassociation, and negation of feelings is important to unraveling people’s sexual problems and relationship issues. This session will critically examine the sexual nature of birth, current practices, men’s roles, and the impact of the denial of birth’s importance on our culture and therapeutic practice.

Objectives: By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain how the denial of the sexual nature of childbirth negatively impacts birth events and later sexual relationships
  2. Articulate the subtle messages communicated to women about their bodies and sexual functioning during typical labor and birth experiences in North America
  3. Restate the possible emotional and sexual impact on husbands and male partners of viewing medical procedures and childbirth on their wife or female partner
  4. Explain birth procedures affect sexual functioning
  5. Explore therapeutic strategies for resolving birth related sexual issues.

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Hospital Based Doulas and Independent Practice Doulas: What’s The Difference?

Through her original research with hospital based doulas and their clients, Dr. Gilliland illuminates the necessary skills, client expectations and needs, and nature of support provided by hospital based doulas. Clinical implications of this research and necessary conditions for a successful program are included. This work is very different from independent practice or community based doulaing, and has its own unique challenges and rewards.

Objectives: By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

1. List the four unique skills of the hospital based birth doula.
2. List ten unique challenges of hospital based birth doulas.
3. Identify the multiple and interacting conditions needed for a hospital based doula program’s success.

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