Abstract: Labor and Love: A Comparative Study of News Coverage of Doulas and Doula Care in China, Ghana, and India

◆ Zehui Dai, Radford University

News Media Coverage and Understanding of Doula Professionals

Doulas are nonmedical maternal health care workers who provide physical, emotional, and informational support during pregnancy, childbirth, and/or the postpartum period. A doula’s role is to help women in labor have safe and comfortable childbirth experiences by centering birthing mothers’ bodies and feelings as well as by making sure that laboring women are able to holistically experience the childbirth process (Hunter & Hurst, 2016). Moreover, researchers have found that doula care encourages positive birth outcomes, including the decreased need for medical technological intervention and pain medications as well as lower rates of birth complications.
There is no doubt that news media play an essential role in both creating and influencing cultural norms and social discourse (Dacin, Dacin, & Matear, 2010; Scollon, 2014). From a health communication perspective, there is an association between news media coverage of maternal health issues and public attention towards the issues (Zhang, Jin, Stewart, & Porter, 2016). The authors use a feminist lens to examine discourses about doula professionals and doula care in Chinese, Ghanaian, and Indian news media to (a) explore how cultural notions of women and the status of women manifest in discussions about doulas and doula care, and (b) explain how current portrayals of the doula may be reproducing dominant views about womanhood and women’s reproduction. Based on the discussion of existing literature on the topic, the overarching research question guiding this study is: How do sociocultural and medical views about women and childbirth manifest in the discussions about doulas and doula care in the news media?
Method and Preliminary Findings
The comparative analysis follows a “different systems” design (Przeworski & Teune, 1970). The authors look for similarities and differences in coverage across different media systems. Moreover, the authors use qualitative content analysis to study media coverage, defined by Hsieh and Shannon (2005) as “the characteristics of language as communication with attention to the context or contextual meaning of the text” (p.1278). Making the methodology systematic was especially important for this study as it aimed to compare news texts from three non-western countries, China, Ghana, and India (between January 2006 to January 2019).
China, Ghana, and India have complex media systems. They not only differ from one other but each of them is diverse itself. The account of how news media in these nations covered the doula professionals and doula care are thus quite nuanced. The authors identified two similar themes in the news coverages from three nations: the introduction of doula phenomenon, as well as doula support in labor, increased the rate of natural birth. Moreover, the analysis showed that Chinese news coverage of doulas was associated with the second-child policy, and doula care in laboring has become a strategy to force women to have a second child. The Ghanaian news coverage suggested doula care in labor increased the rate of having safe childbirth for women. The Indian news coverage of doula care was associated with political and class discussions.