What is a Doula?
The word doula comes from a Greek word meaning “woman who serves”. A doula provides continuous emotional and physical support throughout the labor process. A doula helps provide non-medical comfort measures, and helps normalize the birthing process. She provides information, support, and comfort. She can answer prenatal questions a woman has, as well as help decide when to go to the hospital or call the midwife during labor. She can help you create a birth plan and stick to it during labor. She is a source of encouragement, and can help remind you that the things you are experiencing are normal. After the birth, she can help you establish breastfeeding and set you up for success in this area.
The statistics about doulas attending labor are encouraging. According to one study in 2012, women who seek doula support have:
· 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
· 28% decrease in the risk of C-section
· 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
My partner is a great support and encouragement. Should i have a doula?
While your partner is indeed an integral part of the birthing process, the likelihood that they have personal experience with childbirth is small. Doulas are for dads too! They help support the partner when mom is experiencing the intensity of labor, and help remind them that it is normal and that they are doing a good job. They can help remind you of different labor positions and show your partner how to do a hip squeeze or provide counter pressure on your lower back. They can also stay with you while dad goes to the bathroom or eats a quick meal. Sometimes, supporting moms in various labor positions can be physically tiring as well, and doulas help give dad a break so they don’t become exhausted. They can help provide information about various procedures and provide emotional support if they are feeling overwhelmed. They can also free the partner up to be there for mom, by performing tasks like setting up a birth pool, preparing a light meal, or calling friends and family members.
I plan to use pain medication during labor. Would I benefit from having a doula?
Absolutely! Typically, moms have to be in active labor before being admitted to the hospital and experience some of labor naturally. Doulas are great for this period of time, and once pain medication is given, they will stay with the mom throughout her labor to provide emotional support. They provide information and have some comfort measures in mind for side effects from pain medication too. She can help you determine various positions to labor in while in bed to help labor progress. Having a doula, even with pain medication, is associated with favorable birth outcomes.
Is there anything doulas don’t do?
Doulas are not medical professionals. They will not check fetal heart tones, perform vaginal exams, or give medical advice. They do not diagnose conditions or deliver babies. Their one job is to support the mom during childbirth. They don’t leave you while you are in labor until the baby is born and you are settled in. They don’t judge you for your decisions about labor or insert their opinions where they are not wanted. They also do not guarantee you the birth experience you desire, but they care about how you give birth and know that your experience is important!
Hodnett, E. D., S. Gates, et al. (2012). “Continuous support for women during childbirth.” Cochrane database of systematic reviews: CD003766.