Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Caregiving and social support: Feminist health communication approach to understanding doulas in China

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lynne Hewitt (Other)


Doula and doula workers are a group of maternal health care workers. The doula care phenomenon--as it emerges as a viable profession for women in China--reveals nuances and contradictions and lends itself to an examination through a feminist health communication lens and a relational communication perspective. This dissertation project broadly focuses on an examination of the emergence of the doula phenomenon and the role that the doula workers play in the context of struggles for women's autonomy in the contexts of pregnancy and childbirth in China. I look at post-1980s contexts of midwifery--referred to as "doula care" and how it is manifested in China. I conducted in-depth interviews with 16 professional doulas in China to collect data for this project. I examine how Chinese doulas construct multiple identities, in terms of serving as lactation consultants, child care providers, and child care educators for women during pregnancy and childbirth. Chinese doulas develop a close relationship with pregnant women, as sisters and families. Therefore, I suggest that doula support not only has been explored in labor and childbirth, but also has been introduced to women in pregnancy and women in general as a notion of respectful maternal health care. The provision of doulas' support to Chinese pregnant women and expectant mothers constructs a space outside of mainstream Chinese medical and hospital-based health care settings.