Pioneer Of Mother-Baby Bonding Research Dies

Among childbirth advocates and educators, the death of Dr. John Hawks Kennell is truly notable.


His pioneering studies (the most influential research was published in JAMA in 1991) found that women who have the continuous support of a doula, essentially a trained round-the-clock companion during labor and delivery, are far less likely to have a cesarean section or other medical interventions, like epidurals.

Ananda Lowe, a Boston-area doula (and my co-author on a book about childbirth) emailed me her thoughts on Kennell's passing:

"Dr. John Kennell began conducting his groundbreaking research on the critical importance of human support in childbirth in the 1970s — without which the modern doula movement would not be what it is today. Modern medicine still has much to learn from Kennell's work. How grateful I am that he used his clinical authority to demonstrate that in general, new mothers and babies need compassionate care even more than high technology to make it safely through the passage of childbirth."

Here's more from the Cleveland Plain Dealer obituary:

John was a dedicated researcher and pioneer in the study of mothers and babies...He is best known for two research findings. The first was the importance of maternal infant contact that was the focus of the 1976 book "Maternal Infant Bonding" which he coauthored with his long-time colleague Dr. Marshall Klaus. Their groundbreaking studies indicated that parental attachment to an infant is crucial to a child's survival, regardless of external factors such as socioeconomic status. Their findings suggested that parents should have close contact with their newborn within minutes of birth in order to form a lasting attachment. These studies led to changes in hospital procedures worldwide to allow mothers to have contact with their newborns immediately after birth and later opened up labor and delivery areas to fathers and families. His second major contribution was the demonstration that having a trained companion during labor and delivery greatly reduces labor time, perinatal complications, and the need for medication and cesarean delivery. He coauthored "The Doula Book" with Drs. Marshall and Phyllis Klaus and together they helped create the organization Doulas of North America.

This program aired on September 3, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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