Bearing the burden of care: Emotional burnout among maternity support workers

Miriam Naiman-Sessions, Megan M. Henley, Louise Marie Roth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This research examines effects on emotional burnout among "maternity support workers" (MSWs) that support women in labor (labor and delivery (L&D) nurses and doulas). The emotional intensity of maternity support work is likely to contribute to emotional distress, compassion fatigue, and burnout. This study uses data from the Maternity Support Survey (MSS) to analyze emotional burnout among 807 L&D nurses and 1,226 doulas in the United States and Canada. Multivariate OLS regression models examine the effects of work family conflict, overwork, emotional intelligence, witnessing unethical mistreatment of women in labor, and practice characteristics on emotional burnout among these MSWs. We measure emotional burnout using the Professional Quality of Life (PROQOL) Emotional Burnout subscale. Workfamily conflict, feelings of overwork, witnessing a higher frequency of unethical mistreatment, and working in a hospital with a larger percentage of cesarean deliveries are associated with higher levels of burnout among MSWs. Higher emotional intelligence is associated with lower levels of burnout, and the availability of hospital wellness programs is associated with less burnout among L&D nurses. While the MSS obtained a large number of responses, its recruitment methods produced a nonrandom sample and made it impossible to calculate a response rate. As a result, responses may not be generalizable to all L&D nurses and doulas in the United States and Canada. This research reveals that MSWs attitudes about medical procedures such as cesarean sections and induction are tied to their experiences of emotional burnout. It also demonstrates a link between witnessing mistreatment of laboring women and burnout, so that traumatic incidents have negative emotional consequences for MSWs. The findings have implications for secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, and for the quality of maternity care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-125
Number of pages27
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Health Care
StatePublished - 2017


  • Emotional burnout
  • compassion fatigue
  • maternity support
  • secondary trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nursing (miscellaneous)


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