Tina Lyon is a comforting presence for expectant parents at Sutter Davis (Calif.) Hospital. As a volunteer doula, she calmly coaches moms – and their friends and family members – through child birth.

“Seeing that moment of birth when this couple becomes a family is the most rewarding part of what I do,” says Lyon, a mother of six and former educator. “If I make that moment a good moment and a good memory, I think that will carry on.”

Lyon is one of the hospital’s 60 volunteer doulas – all women except for one man – who provide emotional support and labor coaching during child birth. The service is provided free to women who request a doula – a Greek word meaning in common usage a “woman who serves.”

Sutter Davis’s Doula Volunteer Program last month rVolunteer Tina Lyoneceived an AHA Hospital Awards for Volunteer Excellence, or HAVE award, for community service at the 2016 AHA Annual Membership Meeting in Washington, D.C. Lyon described the program at the AHA HAVE Awards ceremony.

“A lot of our work is just to let everybody know that what is happening is normal and good, even though it might not look in their eyes like it’s the best thing in the world to be happening,” she says.

Lyon has coached more than 200 women through childbirth at Sutter Davis since she joined the program more than five years ago. She volunteers about 30 hours a month as an on-call doula.

“We have people come from all over to have their babies at Sutter and a huge part of it is the doula program,” she says.

Some 23% of the hospital’s 1,500 births annually are attended by volunteer doulas. The hospital cites research that shows patients attended by doulas have fewer medical interventions, improved bonding with their babies, higher breast feeding rates, lower caesarean rates, fewer incidents of postpartum depression and mood disorders and lower medication usage.    

“We have one of the highest patient satisfaction rates in the state and [the doula program] is one of the things we offer that contributes to those outcomes,” says Carolyn Campos, manager of the hospital’s birthing center.

AHA HAVE Award winnerDoula applicants must be over the age of 18 and be willing to commit to at least 16 hours on call per month and a minimum two-year commitment. They also must live within 45 minutes of the hospital.

Applications for 10 to 15 positions open twice a year, and often draw 100 applicants each round.

Those who are accepted receive continuing education that includes monthly meetings with patients, families, nurses, midwives, physicians, nurse practitioners and child birth educators.

Veteran doulas, like Lyon, also serve as mentors to new volunteers.

“A lot of them are still in college and have never witnessed a birth before,” Lyon says. “Their reaction is almost the same as watching the moms give birth. It’s very inspirational.”

Click here to learn more about the AHA HAVE Award.