What Is A Birth Doula?
A birth doula is professionally trained in how to support women and families during pregnancy, labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum. She does not perform any medical procedures, but instead provides you with services that offer continuous emotional, physical, and informational support. A doula does not have an agenda, give advice, or assume there is a “right” way to give birth. Your goals are her goals, and she offers education and information so you can make informed decisions that are congruent with your family’s needs and values.
A certified doula’s skills include birth plan preparation, pain relief techniques, labor massage, relaxation techniques, effective positioning for labor and birth, acupressure points, optimal fetal positioning, visualization techniques, hydrotherapy, hospital advocacy, breastfeeding support, and much more. A birth doula is flexible and knows how to navigate birth’s unexpected twists and turns. If unforeseen circumstances should arise, a doula remains calm, keeps you informed on what is happening, and helps you adapt to changing circumstances. A doula is attentive to your hopes and fears, she is respectful of your choices, and she inspires confidence in your ability to labor and birth.
A doula does not replace the important role of the father, partner, or other family members. Instead, she encourages fathers and partners to engage in the process with greater confidence and effectiveness and relieves them of the pressure to know and do everything. A doula knows how to work collaboratively with hospital staff even as she advocates for your needs and preferences during labor. A doula works for you, not for the doctor or hospital, so her care can be highly personalized to your individual needs.
How Doulas Work With Dads & Partners
The role of the father or partner during labor is essential. The laboring woman needs to know that her husband or partner is there for her, and that they are on this journey together. A doula encourages fathers and partners to be the primary source of emotional support and does not attempt to replace the partner’s role.
Most partners are inexperienced with childbirth and unsure of how to offer their loving support during this unique experience. Even the most attentive partner may be overwhelmed by the hospital environment, the changes unfolding in the laboring woman, and the emotions that surface in anticipation of the baby’s arrival. While childbirth educators do their best to equip partners with useful information and techniques, it is simply too much to expect partners to remember everything and to instinctively know how to assist a woman through labor.
A certified doula’s knowledge, skills, and expertise allow fathers and partners to be less pressured and more present. They can be reassured that the doula will offer practical suggestions, information, and techniques as needed, which allows partners to be much more relaxed, loving, and emotionally present. A doula can offer partners helpful tips along the way and make it possible for partners to take much needed breaks.
There are also times when the labor or birth process can get intense or when things may take an unexpected turn. In these circumstances, fathers and birth partners may need as much emotional and informational support as the woman in labor, and a doula can step in to reassure and care for the entire family.
How Doulas Work With Medical Staff
A certified doula does not perform any medical procedures, but she does work collaboratively with the hospital staff to create a supportive team atmosphere during your labor and birth.
An experienced doula knows how to create good rapport with your nurses, midwives, and doctors while simultaneously advocating for your choices, needs, and desires.
A doula helps you to voice your needs and wishes without becoming confrontational or disrespectful, and she works to maintain the delicate balance between respecting hospital protocols and ensuring your autonomy.
Who Hires A Birth Doula?
Virtually anyone preparing for the experience of labor and birth can benefit from the presence of a birth doula, including:
People Desiring A Natural Childbirth
A doula is well equipped to effectively support parents’ efforts to avoid pain medications and interventions and to have a normal vaginal delivery. A doula’s skill set is made up of emotional, physical, and informational tools designed to help you achieve the experience of natural childbirth within a hospital setting.
People Striving For A Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)
A birth doula may be one of the most important and effective resource available to parents striving for a VBAC. Not only does a birth doula know how to help you avoid unnecessary interventions that may lead to another cesarean, but she also knows how to help you process your previous birth experience as part of your preparation for VBAC. A doula can offer indispensable reassurance and encouragement as you strive for the VBAC experience.
People Who Want An Epidural Assisted Birth
A birth doula can enhance the labor and birth experience of women who desire pain relief medications by providing useful information about epidural procedures, suggesting appropriate stages to receive an epidural, recommending in-bed positions that enhance labor’s progression, offering advise on how to minimize the “cascade effect” leading to undesired interventions, and assisting with the important transition into bonding and breastfeeding.
People With High Risk Pregnancies or Births
Some pregnant women have a higher risk of encountering labor and birth complications due to conditions such as hypertension, pre-eclampsia, diabetes, etc. A certified doula can help relieve some of the anxiety and tension generated by these conditions by offering clear information and explanations, by helping you to find additional methods of managing your condition, and by ensuring that you will have continuous support throughout your labor and delivery.
People Planning A Homebirth
In a homebirth setting, a birth doula can provide ongoing emotional and physical support while your midwife focuses on your medical care. She can also help family members set up the birthing tub, prepare the birth/postpartum bed, clean up after the birth, and help with immediate postpartum needs and desires.
Benefits Of Hiring A Doula
The many benefits of hiring a certified birth doula are recognized by the World Health Organization and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Several studies show that a doula’s continuous support, practical knowledge, and labor enhancing techniques help to reduce pain and anxiety in laboring women. When a laboring woman is less frightened and feels less pain, her labor is more likely to progress without the need for interventions. Research shows that a doula’s presence during labor and birth results in the following positive outcomes:
- reduction in the rate of cesareans
- reduction in epidural requests
- reduction in the use of pitocin (a contraction induction method)
- reduction in vacuum assisted deliveries
- shorter labors
- an increase in successful breastfeeding and bonding
- a reduction in “baby blues” and postpartum depression