The hand that rocks the cradle can benefit from a steadying influence - women who get a little TLC during childbirth seem to be more affectionate to their babies later.

A study involving poor, uneducated women was one of a series on the effect of doulas - women trained to help other women through the physical and emotional battering of giving birth. Doula stems from a Greek word meaning slave.It found that women given a steadying hand and reassuring voice during labor and the hours after birth were more affectionate to their babies two months later.

"It's impressive to think that the presence of that woman can make that difference that much later," said Dr. John Kennell, the Case Western Reserve pediatrician who supervised the studies.

Researchers studied a group of low-income women from the Houston area, said Susan Landry, the University of Texas-Houston Medical Center psychologist presenting the study Saturday at the Pediatric Academic Societies of America meeting in New Orleans.

The women, all first-time mothers, were randomly assigned to one of three subgroups at Houston's Ben Taub Hospital, one of two public hospitals in Harris County.

Thirty-three were coached, coaxed and encouraged through labor by a doula - a woman who had been taught how to do that, but didn't have medical training. Unlike a midwife, the doula did not deliver the baby but was there to support the mother.

The doulas stayed with the women after delivery, showing them how to hold their babies, feed them and generally get comfortable with them, Landry said. Most of the women with doulas did not ask for anesthetic.

Thirty-five women got the hospital's standard treatment, and if they complained of pain they were initially offered a narcotic.

Thirty-six were first offered an epidural anesthetic. "Many mothers were interested in the study in part because at this big hospital, epidurals weren't usually given," Landry said. Some women got both a narcotic and an epidural.

The doulas were paid by the researchers. They generally charge $250 to $400 to help a woman through labor and immediately afterward, researchers said.

Six to eight weeks later, researchers went to the women's homes, saying they were giving the babies a series of tests but actually watching the mothers. The researchers scored the mothers at five different stages during the visit.

The two groups who had no doula had statistically identical scores, but the doula-assisted group scored significantly higher at four of the five checkpoints, Landry said.