The origin of the word doula, in Greek means ‘women’s servant’. For hundreds, even thousands of years women have been helping each other through labor and delivery – with exceptional results.
A doula is professionally trained to provide support to women in childbirth. They are there emotionally and physically for the pregnant woman and give advice and information on childbirth options. Their primary role is to create a comfortable, safe atmosphere for the child to be born.
Doulas come by many names, and some also provide pregnancy and postpartum support. Other terms for doula include labor companions, labor support specialists, labor assistants and birth assistants.
Doulas generally meet with the pregnant mother (and her partner if requested) a few months before the expected due date. They encourage the mother to ask as many questions as she needs to in order to understand labor and delivery, as well as to alleviate any fears or concerns she may have. While doulas know a lot about labor and delivery, they are not qualified to give out medical advice. Doulas know a lot about the birthing process, so they can help answer questions about the process and possible complications.
The doula’s responsibility during labor and delivery is to remain close at hand with the mother and provide comfort and encouragement. They are also adept at providing natural pain relief, and assist with the labor progress using varied labor positions, massage and breathing techniques. No matter what type of birth the mother is expecting: natural, medically pain-relieved or cesarean section a doula can help make the process positive and as natural as possible. They are also often on hand after the birth to assist with getting breastfeeding well established and to help the mother and baby bond.
When a doula is present during labor and delivery, women are more likely to deliver without pain medication, and have a higher instance of positive birth experiences. Women were also less likely to end up with a cesarean birth, as doulas are skilled at helping coax babies out of difficult birthing positions.
Studies have shown that when a doula is including in the birthing process the chance of a cesarean is reduced by 50% and the length of labor shortens by 25%. Additionally the need for pain medication also decreases.
Using touch and massage the doula is able to stimulate the production of natural oxytocin, which not only increases contractions to speed up the labor process but it also travels to the brain to raise the pain threshold and cause feelings of drowsiness and well being. Unfortunately synthetic oxytocin only affects the uterus, so there are no positive effects when using the synthetic drug as far as pain management is concerned.
Some are quick to dismiss the need for a doula when a partner is present, thinking that the doula will oust the father during labor and delivery. Actually, having a doula on hand increases the ability for fathers to actively participate in the birth because the doula can show him how to help the mother relax, or they can take over when the father needs a break. This can make the birthing process more enjoyable for both parents.
Whether you are planning a natural birth or would like pain medication, a doula can still be extremely useful in the labor and delivery room. When a doula is present women are less likely to need pain medication, but that doesn’t mean that the option isn’t available should you decide that you need it. Doulas are very knowledgeable about the pain medication available as well as possible side effects, so together you can decide what will work best for you and your baby.
A doula is also a useful companion in the case of a cesarean delivery, as she can attend to the mother’s needs and explain what is happening during the procedure. Once the baby is delivered she can remain with the mother while the father goes with the baby.
Besides a doula who attends to the mother during labor, there are two other kinds of doulas:
Antepartum Doula – this type of doula generally attends to the needs of a mother during a high-risk pregnancy while she is on bed rest, and provide emotional and physical support.
Postpartum Doula – these doulas help a new mother get settled in at home with their baby, by assisting with feeding, cleaning cooking meals and watching the baby when mom needs a rest.
Many doulas are trained to provide two or all three levels of support, depending on what the family is looking for.
When you are looking for a doula, make sure that you feel comfortable with them and confident of their skills. Generally the initial meeting with a doula is free of charge, so try to interview a few doulas so you can be sure to find one that suits your needs.
Good questions to ask:
What services do you provide?
What fees do you charge?
What is your training?
Will you be available around my due date?
What inspired you to become a doula?
Do you have any thoughts/feelings on how labor and delivery should go?
Would you be able to get together before the birth to talk about my birth plan?
Do you have a backup plan if you are unavailable for the birth?
Find the right doula for your birth is a very personal decision, but by asking some questions and getting to know the doula and her philosophy you can decide if she is the right one to help you through your labor and delivery.