The more I promote myself as a doula, the more I come across the question, “What is a doula and why should I hire one?”. Since the tradition of having a doula has just started to become revived, there are many misconceptions out there about the role of a doula and what they actually do. Part of being a birth doula is educating people on what my job is and promoting awareness about the different birth options that women have. There is no wrong way to give birth, but there is no harm in knowing what is available, in terms of making your birth experience one that is unique to who you are and addresses the specific needs that you have.
Doula is a Greek word that means, “women who serves” and in many ways, that is just what we do. A doula’s role is to provide emotional, physical and educational support before, during and after labor. Not only is a doula a consistent familiar face during this process, but having the continuous care of a skilled professional can be a tremendous source of comfort to a laboring mother.
Before labor, doulas will develop a relationship with their client, where the mother feels comfortable asking any and all questions related to her experiences and can freely express her fears and concerns. Doulas can also help with making a birth plan and educating the mother on different positions one can use during labor, relaxation and pain coping techniques, and what to expect during labor. A doula will make herself available by phone or email, so that the mother can continue to ask questions and develop a stronger relationship with her doula.
During delivery, doulas can help with pain coping techniques including massage, breathing techniques, laboring positions and a consistent voice of encouragement. Doulas are also there to encourage partner participation and provide support to the couple during labor. This can be done by reminding the partner of things that might be helpful to the laboring mother or stepping in so that the partner can take a break. A doula is not there to replace the partner, but only to enhance their experience and take the pressure off of them, if necessary. A doula can also act as an advocate for the mother and help her to make informed decisions.
After birth, doulas can provide support in breastfeeding and make wonderful referrals to lactation consultants if necessary. They also screen for postpartum depression and can make referrals for this as well. It is also an opportunity for the mother to process her birth experience with someone who was there alongside her.
My goal as a doula, is to provide mothers with women centered care that views birth as a natural process. I hope to meet a mother’s needs coming from a place of strength and empowerment. When people ask me what my role is, I typically tell them that it can range from things as simple as getting water for the mother so that she and her partner can remain together, to actively supporting the mother with breathing techniques, suggesting positions, acupressure and massage. It is always up to the mother as to what my role will be and I continue to let her lead the way in regards to where I fit it.
Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of having a doula present during labor. In fact, it is shown that, “having a doula as a member of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and requests for an epidural by 60%”. Having a doula at your birth can dramatically enhance your birthing experience, regardless of what type of birth you have.
If you have any more questions about what a doula is and how one can enhance your birthing experience, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly. Until then, happy birthing!
Klaus, M., Kennell, J., Klaus, P. Mothering the Mother.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993.