Evidence-Based Studies in Support of Coaching for Pregnancy and Birth
Are There Any Studies about the Benefits of Coaching for Health Improvement?
While working on my new certification course, Coaching for Pregnancy and Birth, I researched studies which will provide the scientific data to support what I already knew – coaching provides the most beneficial strategies to lead expectant couples toward a healthy and satisfying journey of pregnancy, birth and early postpartum. I assumed that the best research strategy would be found in the field of health and wellness coaching, which has been growing rapidly over the years as more people have become conscious of their health and well-being, and guess what – I was right!
What Do Health and Wellness Coaches Do?
Health and Wellness Coaches If you wonder what does a health and wellness coach do, let me explain: Health and wellness coaches help clients make positive and lasting changes to their health. In an article called A Systematic Review of the Literature on Health and Wellness Coaching: Defining a Key Behavioral Intervention in Healthcare, published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine in 2013, the researchers analyzed medical literature on health and wellness coaching – 800 articles that were published in PubMed, in which 76% contained empirical data about the topic. According to this comprehensive review, the literature shows a growing consensus about health and wellness coaching as “a patient-centered process that is based upon behavior change theory and is delivered by health professionals with diverse backgrounds. The actual coaching process entails goal-setting determined by the patient, encourages self-discovery in addition to content education, and incorporates mechanisms for developing accountability in health behaviors.
Sounds familiar? If you have been following my blog and listening to my webinars, you already know that this is exactly what pregnancy and birth coaches are called to do. We use the same coaching strategies used by coaches in other fields. We lead expectant couples to craft their vision for their desired birth, and we then inspire, inform, encourage and guide expectant couples all the way to achieving it. Since the experiences of pregnancy and birth fall under the broader category of maternal health, I figured that the findings supporting the benefit of health and wellness coaching will be applicable for coaching in the field of birth support.
In a study called Comparing the Effectiveness of Individual Coaching, Self-Coaching, and Group Training: How Leadership Makes the Difference published in 2016 in Frontiers in Psychology participants were assigned to individual coaching, a self-coaching, a group training, or a control group condition. The results indicated that individual coaching and group training were effective and facilitating goal attainment. Individual coaching created a high degree of satisfaction and was superior in helping participants attaining their goals, whereas group training successfully promoted the acquisition of relevant knowledge. In addition, the findings show that “coach’s transformational and transactional leadership behavior influenced participants’ perceived autonomy support and intrinsic motivation, resulting in beneficial coaching outcomes”. So if you are a childbirth educator, dedicated to leading expectant couples towards a healthy birth, these findings might motivate you to learn the coaching strategies, which were found to be superior to informing in leading clients to attain their goals.
A different study called A Qualitative Study of How Health Coaches Support Patients in Making Health-Related Decisions and Behavioral Changes, published in Annals of Family Medicine in 2016, found that the coach-patient relationships are beneficial in four aspects: education, personal support, practical support, and acting as a bridge between patients and clinicians. The mutual trust and partnership that are central in the coaching relationships were central to the coach’s ability to support the patient. A trusting relationship enabled patients to be honest, ask questions, and express doubts or disagreements, which allowed the health coach to be more effective. The coaching relationships were also found to be beneficial in facilitating the patient’s informed decisions: “Health coaches provided education using patient-centered techniques that included determining patients’ goals and readiness for change and checking for patients’ understanding…working with patients to identify options, create action plans, identify and overcome barriers, locate resources, and provide reminders. By providing this support, coaches enabled patients a wider range of choices. These findings are highly reassuring as of the importance of coaching in birth support since the issue of informed consent and advocacy in the field has raised a few dilemmas over the years and has led to lack of trust among everyone involved – medical care providers, support agents, and expectant couples.
In this particular study, health coaches were embraced by the medical as legitimate members of the patients’ team. This results in coaches feeling that they were creating a bridge between the patients and their caregivers and this helped the patients feel like active partners in their care: “I think patients come in thinking they’re not part of the team. They’re just being told what to do. It’s a paradigm shift altogether. ‘Okay, I’m supposed to be part of this decision making.” It is my absolute vision to see the same thing happen in the field of birth support.
I wholeheartedly believe that when birth professionals begin coaching expectant couple it will enable the health system to recognize and embrace them as legitimate team members. It will resolve the dichotomy between the medical paradigm of maternal care and the traditional one and will evoke the new paradigm we are all hoping for- the patient-centered maternal care.
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