What Is A Birth Doula?
Birth doulas are professionally trained in how to support families during pregnancy, labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum. Doulas do not perform any medical procedures but instead provide you with continuous emotional, physical, and informational support. Doulas do not have an agenda, give advice, or assume there is a “right” way to give birth. Your goals are their goals, and they offers education and information so you can make informed decisions that are congruent with your family’s needs and values.
A 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. Doulas are flexible and knows how to navigate birth’s unexpected twists and turns. If unforeseen circumstances should arise, your doula remains calm, keeps you informed on what is happening, and helps you adapt to changing circumstances. Doulas are attentive to your hopes and fears, respectful of your choices, and inspire confidence in your ability to labor and birth.
Doulas do not replace the important role of fathers, partners, or other family members. Instead, they encourage partners to engage in the process with greater confidence and effectiveness and relieve them of the pressure to know and do everything. Doulas know how to work collaboratively with hospital staff even as they advocate for your needs and preferences during labor. Doulas work for you, not for the doctor or hospital, so their 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. Laboring people need to know that their partners are there for them, and that they are on this journey together. Doulas encourage partners to be the primary source of emotional support and do 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 person, 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 person through labor.
A doula’s knowledge, skills, and expertise allow 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, partners may need as much emotional and informational support as the person in labor, and a doula can step in to reassure and care for the entire family.
How Doulas Work With Medical Staff
Doulas do not perform any medical procedures, but they do 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.
Doulas help you to voice your needs and wishes without becoming confrontational or disrespectful, and they work 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
Doulas are well equipped to effectively support people’s efforts to avoid pain medications and interventions and to have normal vaginal deliveries. 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 people striving for a VBAC. Not only do birth doulas know how to help you avoid unnecessary interventions that may lead to another cesarean, but they also know how to help you process your previous birth experience as part of your preparation for VBAC. Doulas can offer indispensable reassurance and encouragement as you strive for the VBAC experience.
People Who Want An Epidural Assisted Birth
Doulas can enhance the labor and birth experience of people who desire pain relief medications by providing useful information about epidural procedures, suggesting appropriate times 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 people have a higher risk of encountering labor and birth complications due to conditions such as hypertension, pre-eclampsia, diabetes, etc. Doulas can help relieve some of the anxiety and tension generated by these conditions by offering clear information and explanations, helping you to find additional methods of managing your condition, and ensuring that you have continuous support throughout your labor and delivery.
People Planning A Homebirth
In a homebirth setting, doulas can provide ongoing emotional and physical support while your midwife focuses on your medical care. Doulas 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 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 people. When laboring people are less frightened and feel less pain, 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