What is a doula?
The word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves" and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth.
Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily.
A birth doula:
Recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember all her life
Understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor
Assists the woman in preparing for and carrying out her plans for birth
Stays with the woman throughout the labor
Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions
Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers
Perceives her role as nurturing and protecting the woman's memory of the birth experience
Allows the woman's partner to participate at his/her comfort level
A birth doula does NOT….
Perform any clinical tasks such as vaginal exams, fetal heart tone monitoring, etc.
Provide any medical advice
Make decisions for the couple or to speak to the clinical staff on the couple’s behalf regarding their decisions
Does not replace the dad/partner in his/her role
What are the benefits of having a birth doula?
Women who use birth doulas are more satisfied with their birth experience, require fewer interventions during labor and delivery, and have higher rates of breastfeeding than women without doula support.
Worldwide clinical studies have shown that the presence of a birth doula commonly results in:
Parents feeling more supported
Decrease in cesarean births
Fewer forceps and vacuum extraction births
Fewer interventions (less Pitocin, less medication)
Increase well-being for baby (less NICU)
Increase breastfeeding success
Moms who are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression and are happier with their birth experience
Will a Doula replace my partner?
A doula can never replace your partner's role. Your partner knows you better than your doula and is irreplaceable. It is also an understandable concern that a doula could affect the intimacy of your birth. A doula can in fact enhance your partners role as well as protect the intimate moments of your birth. Here are a few ways doulas support and work with your birth partner to enhance the birth experience for both of you:
is a trained birth professional who understands the process of labor and can answer questions and assure both of you throughout labor and birth. This takes a great deal of pressure and responsibility off of your partner to remember everything he learned in birth classes or books.
can have suggestions on labor positions, massage techniques, birth plan reminders for a partner who wants to be active and involved.
can step into a more active role with the laboring mother for the birth partner who wishes to be more hands off.
makes sure your partner is taken care of during your labor with food, drinks, sleep, as well as emotionally, in the case that he is worried or overwhelmed, he has someone to talk to who understands and has answers.
can give the birth partner a break during a long labor, to take a nap or get coffee or food.
can bring snacks to the father so he can stay with the laboring mother continuously.
can take photos when the baby is born so that your partner can be fully present.
Ultimately takes the pressure off of your partner so that he can concentrate on you fully and experience the birth alongside you.
Each family will have their own desires for the doula's role. In prenatal meetings it is important to discuss and clarify your desires and vision for your doula's role in your birth.
Are doulas only for natural childbirth?
No. This is a common misconception. Every woman, whatever her desires for childbirth can benefit from having continuous, compassionate support during labor.
What if I want an epidural?
A doula can be especially beneficial in the following ways:
she can help you receive accurate and transparent information about epidurals before labor.
She can help you labor as long as possible before getting the epidural which can minimize some of the risks such as fetal malpositioning or slowing of labor progress. There is also a waiting period between when you ask for the epidural and receive it which she can help you through.
She can help you stay calm during the administration of the epidural.
She can offer safe and beneficial positions for laboring with an epidural to support labor progression and beneficial fetal positioning.
She can answer any questions about recommended interventions.
She maintains her attention on you, while the nurses will be checking your iv fluids, fetal monitor, blood pressure cuff or medication.
She can stay with you if your birth partner needs to take a nap.
Her primary focus is your rest and relaxation and emotional state throughout labor.
She can offer beneficial pushing positions.
She brings no judgement whatsoever. Requesting an epidural can be emotional and frightening, particularly if you had planned a natural childbirth. She is there to empower and support you in whatever decision you make, and help you through the emotions of it all.