What is a doula and why might I want one?
Birth doulas are experienced and trained professionals who understand the physiology of birth and the emotional and physical needs of a woman in labor. A birth doula provides continuous non-judgmental physical, emotional, and informational support before, during and just after birth. She perceives her role as nurturing and recognizes birth as a key experience the mother and her partner will remember throughout her life. A doula’s role changes, depending on the needs of the woman and her partner. Doulas can encourage the partner to become involved in the birth to the extent he or she feels comfortable by demonstrating effective techniques that can be used by the partner during each stage of labor, offering reassurance about the normal progress of labor, and/or allowing the partner the freedom to simply be present with the mother and love her. When making decisions about the course of labor, the doula can hold space for the couple and instill clarity and confidence by drawing upon information shared at a prenatal visit regarding their birth preferences. She can offer an objective viewpoint and facilitate communication between the laboring woman, her partner, and care providers as needed to help get information that will allow the woman and her partner to make consented decisions. Doulas are not medical professionals and do not perform clinical tasks, give medical advice, take over the role of the partner or deliver the baby. Labor and Delivery nurses have many other responsibilities other than taking care of the laboring Mother including communicating with her care provider, taking care of multiple other patients and communicating with their providers, documenting care and taking breaks. A nurse’s support ends when her shift does. The doula only has one obligation the whole time she is with you—and that is YOU! Studies have shown that by hiring a doula, unnecessary medical interventions are decreased, and mother-infant bonding is improved, thereby improving birth satisfaction. Lastly, every woman who wants a doula deserves one ~ an extra heart and helping hand as she births her baby.
What are the proven benefits of doula care?
The most recent and largest systematic review (PDF published in 2012 by Hodnett and colleagues) of continuous labor support summarizes the experiences of over 15,000 women who participated in 21 randomized controlled trials. The authors conclude that continuous support during labour has clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants and no known harm.
When continuous labor support is provided by a doula, women experience a:
- 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin (artificial oxytocin)
- 28% decrease in the risk of Cesarean 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*
Findings of Hodnett’s et al meta-analysis of 15 trials from North America, Europe, and Africa conclude that women cared for during labor by a birth doula, compared to those receiving usual care were:
- 41% less likely to give birth with a vacuum extractor or forceps
- 28% less likely to use any analgesia or anesthesia (epidural)
Will a doula interfere with my partner’s role at the birth?
A doula is never meant to replace a woman’s partner if he or she chooses to be present at the birth. While a doula can be very helpful for single women or women who must be separated from their partners at the time of birth, doulas are also valuable additions to the birth team even when a birthing woman has a loving and enthusiastic partner. A doula can suggest ways for your partner to offer you comfort and support during labor and offer him or her much needed breaks for food, rest or contemplation as this is also their experience and journey. With a doula you will never be left alone! In a typical hospital setting, nurses are often dividing their time amongst different women and come and go according to their shifts. Birth partners may find the physically and emotionally intense nature of the birth experience overwhelming and will appreciate the support and experience of a doula as well.
Will my doula force her ideal birth on me?
A doula’s job is to support your ideal birth. While most doulas are enthusiastic about natural/physiological childbirth, studies show that a woman’s satisfaction with her birth experience greatly depend on whether or not she felt supported and included in the decisions being made during her birth. A doula helps you advocate for your birth preferences. Her only goal is to help you have a satisfying birth experience, whatever that means for you. You can read more here: Feeling Good About Your Birth written by my mentor, Ana Paula Markel.
What if I’m planning on getting an epidural or having a scheduled cesarean birth?
A doula can still be very active at a birth that includes an epidural or cesarean procedure. At a cesarean birth a doula can help to make sure the room is kept calm and peaceful, offer a description of the birth as it occurs or record the birth with a video or digital camera while the birth partner sits near your head to provide emotional support, or vice versa. After the baby is born, a doula can help baby establish breastfeeding if desired, or if necessary, either the birth partner or doula can accompany the baby while the other person stays with you in the operating room while the surgery is completed. A doula can also write a birth story of the cesarean birth, helping to reinforce your memory of a beautiful and loving birth experience. Please check out this wonderful article Best Cesarean Possible written by Penny Simkin, the “Doula of all Doulas.”
Research shows that the chance of having a forceps or vacuum-assisted delivery or cesarean birth decrease if the epidural is not administered until a consistent active labor pattern has been established. Many doctors allow a laboring woman to receive her epidural until she reaches 4-5 cm dilation which could take hours before reaching this point. During this time a doula can offer the many comfort measures in which she is trained. Once the epidural has been administered a doula can ensure you are in an appropriate position to protect your back and hips and help you feel more connected to your birth experience by talking with you about your baby’s arrival.
How does a doula interact with hospital staff and care providers?
A doula is trained to work with your medical care providers to give you a safe and satisfying birth experience. Her role is to help you and your partner get information and hold the space so that you can both make an informed and consented decision. She will also help you effectively communicate with your care givers and remind you if there is a deviation from your birth plan or wishes, but she does not make decisions for you or speak on your behalf.
How should I go about hiring a doula?
The most important thing is finding a doula that is a good fit for you and your partner. Ask for recommendations from friends and family if they’ve had a doula at their birth. Ask your care provider if they’ve worked with doulas in the past and get recommendations for doulas with whom they’ve had good experiences. Here are some questions to ask your potential doula during the interview process:
Why did you decide to become a doula?
What is your philosophy of birth and supporting women and their partners?
What is your favorite thing about being a doula? Your least favorite?
What training or certifications do you have?
How long have you been a doula?
How many births have you attended?
How many clients do you take on per month?
What do your services include?
Do you work with a back-up doula?
When and where do you join us in labor?
Interview more than one doula to find someone you really connect with. Remember that as you interview her, she will also be interviewing you to make sure that you will make a good team!