What is a Doula?
‘Doula’ is a Greek word meaning “woman’s servant.” A birth doula is a person trained and experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after childbirth. They are there not only to comfort and support, but also to enhance communication between the parents and medical professionals. The doula plays a crucial role in helping the father/attendant become involved in the birth to the extent he/she feels comfortable.
What does a Doula do?
- Continuous physical, emotional, and informational support during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.
- Support from a person who understands and trusts the process of birth, and who helps facilitate the birth experience for the parents, baby, and primary care providers.
- Emotional support;
- Exercise and physical suggestions to make pregnancy and childbirth more comfortable;
- Help with preparation of a birth plan;
- Facilitation of communication between members of laboring woman's birth team - though most doula certification programs discourage doulas from talking directly with caregivers for the mother/partners;
- Massage and other non-pharmacological pain relief measures;
- Positioning suggestions during labor and birth;
- Support the partner so that s/he can provide support and encouragement to the laboring woman;
- Help to avoid unnecessary interventions;
- Help with breastfeeding preparation and beginning;
- Some doulas offer a written record of the birth (birth story) and photographs/video of the labor/birth;
- Is present during entire labor and afterwards as long as is needed by parent(s).
What a Doula does NOT do:
- Replace nurses or their medical staff
- Perform clinical or medical tasks such as:
- Taking blood pressure or temperature
- Monitoring fetal heart rate
- Vaginal exams
- Provide postpartum clinical care
- Make decisions on behalf of the mother
- Does not intervene in clinical care but rather provides information and emotional support
- Make the father/attendant feel unnecessary
Benefits of Doula care:
- Shorter labor (25%)
- Less requests for pain medication (60%)
- Decrease in anesthesia use (30%)
- Decrease in forceps/assisted delivery (40%)
- Less inductions and use of pitocin (40%)
- Lower C-Section rate (50%)
- Increase in successful VBAC
- Increase in satisfaction with outcome of total birth experience
Research shows parents who receive doula care:
· Feel more secure and cared for
· Are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics
· Have greater success with breastfeeding
· Have greater self-confidence
· Have less postpartum depression
· Have lower incidence of abuse
Women have complex needs during childbirth and the weeks that follow. In addition to medical care and the love and companionship provided by their partners, women need consistent, continuous reassurance, comfort, encouragement and respect. They need individualized care based on their circumstances and preferences.
Doulas are educated and experienced in childbirth and the postpartum period. They are prepared to provide physical (non-medical), emotional and informational support to women and their partners during labor and birth, as well as to families in the weeks following childbirth. They offer a loving touch, positioning and comfort measures that make childbearing women and families feel nurtured and cared for.
Physicians, midwives and nurses are responsible for monitoring labor, assessing the medical condition of the mother and baby and treating complications when they arise; but birth is also an emotional and spiritual experience with long-term impact on a woman's personal well being. A doula is constantly aware that the mother and her partner will remember this experience throughout their lives. By mothering the mother during birth, the doula supports the parents in having a positive and memorable birth experience. The benefits of doula care have been recognized worldwide.