“Doula” is becoming one of those new buzzwords that you hear everywhere–on blogs, in casual conversation, and all sorts of print media. Maybe you’ve even had a friend say she hired a doula for her birth or had someone suggest, “Have you considered hiring a doula?” But what exactly is a doula, anyway? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “doula” as “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth.” A doula, then, is a specially trained childbirth professional whose job is to provide support for the mother during the entire childbearing year.
A doula IS:
- Trained in the physiology of pregnancy and birth. Doulas possess a good understanding of what takes place for both the mother and the baby during pregnancy, birth, and the early postpartum period, providing invaluable informational support.
- A good researcher! Not even doulas know all the answers to every pregnancy or birth question. However, they know where to look for good, evidence based information to provide the mother so she can make informed choices for herself and her baby.
- An emotional support for the mother throughout the wonderful, sometimes scary, sometimes tough journey of pregnancy and birth. A doula provides a nonjudgemental listening ear for all the mother’s fears and concerns, as well as her feelings surrounding pregnancy and birth. She will help the mother work through these feelings and concerns and help her to feel empowered in her birthing experience. She also helps facilitate communication between the mother and medical professionals.
- Trained to provide physical support, especially during the birth. She may use techniques for non medical pain relief, touch, massage, positioning, and visualization, among others, to support the mother.
- Continuous labor support. A doula joins the mother and her partner during labor and will remain with the mother through the entire experience, usually including one to two hours after the birth.
- A supporter of the mother’s wishes and goals, not her own. A doula supports a mother in whatever choices she makes for her pregnancy and birth, whether that is to have a natural childbirth, an epidural, an induction, a cesarian section, or any other medical interventions or procedures she may decide on. A doula does not impose her own biases and preferences on the mother.
What is a doula NOT?
- A medical professional. She does not perform any medical tasks. She does not do cervical exams, catch the baby, monitor blood pressure, or anything of a medical nature. She also does not make clinical diagnoses or recommendations.
- The spokesperson for the mother. A doula does not communicate for the mother with her care providers or medical staff. She instead helps the mother and her partner speak for themselves and endeavors to build a good working relationship among all the members of the birth team.
- A replacement for dad. A doula does not replace the mother’s partner during labor. She does not seek to take over his vital role of loving support for the mother. She instead supports him as well, helping him to be the mother’s hero and providing suggestions and assistance to him as he supports the mother.
Why do you need a doula?
One goal all mothers have for their birth experience is a safe, healthy baby and mother as a result. One way this goal can be achieved is by decreasing risks of interventions during birth. Studies show that women who have continuous support during labor experience:
- 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
- 28% decrease in the risk of Cesarean
- 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
- 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
- 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
- 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience
- Statistics taken from Evidence Based Birth: The Evidence for Doulas
Another goal women have is to feel empowered by their birth experience however it unfolds, not traumatized by it. A doula helps a mother achieve this goal in several ways.
- She provides informational support during pregnancy to help the mother explore and understand all her options regarding the upcoming labor and delivery and often helps with the writing of a birth plan or birth wishes. She continues to provide this support during labor by facilitating communication between the mother and her care providers so that as much as possible, her wishes are honored and she is able to make any decisions about any recommended or necessary interventions her medical provider may suggest. In this way, birth is not something that happens to her, but rather something she does, whether she delivers vaginally or by cesarian. Her autonomy is respected, and she can feel good about the choices made.
- She provides emotional support during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period by listening to the mother, validating her feelings, hearing and addressing her concerns, and providing empathy and understanding. She becomes the mother’s cheerleader by providing encouragement all throughout the childbearing year and especially during labor when emotions run high and things may be hard.
- She is with the mother continuously during labor and delivery. This is especially important in hospital deliveries where the mother may never have met the staff caring for her or even the physician delivering her baby if she delivers when her doctor is not on call.
- A doula is hired by the mother, to support her and to help her achieve her birth goals. She is not hired or employed by the hospital, the doctor’s office, or the midwife. Her sole focus is the support of the mother. She is constantly observing and assessing how she may support the mother both emotionally and physically.
- A doula is familiar with birth, with various support techniques, and with medical terminology. She provides a calm presence for both the mother and the partner. She can support the partner and also allow him to take a break, get rest if he has been up all night with the mother, allow him to get food, etc. without the mother ever being left alone. She also can remember the couple’s preferences and techniques they may have wanted to try and remind them during the birth when they are tired and emotional and may not remember themselves.