What is a doula? (pronounced Doo-la)
The Greek word doula means woman caregiver. We now use the word to describe a trained and experienced labor companion who provides the woman and her husband or partner continuous emotional support, physical comfort and assistance in obtaining information before, during and just after childbirth.
•recognizes birth as a key life experience that the mother will remember all her life.
•understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor.
•assists the woman and her partner in preparing for and carrying out their plans for the birth.
•stays by the side of the laboring woman throughout the entire labor.
•provides emotional support, physical comfort measures, an objective viewpoint, and assistance to the woman in getting the information she needs to make good decisions.
•facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and clinical care providers.
•perceives her role as one who nurtures and protects the woman's memory of her birth experience.
— DONA International (http://www.dona.org)
What are the benefits of having a doula present at my birth?
The Cochrane Library released an updated systematic review of continuous support during labor.
After examining 21 trials involving over 15,000 women, the review authors found that women who received continuous support during labor had:
~ shorter births (on average up to two hours shorter)
~ fewer requests for pain medication ( 60% fewer requests)
~ reduced need for Pitocin to augment labor (40% reduced need)
~ reduced need for Cesarean birth (50% fewer surgeries)
~ reduced need for use of forceps during delivery (30% reduced use)
The non-statistical benefits of having a doula present include:
~ Increased success at establishing a breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
~ Decreased Postpartum Depression
~ Increased maternal satisfaction with the childbirth experience
~ Better Mother to Infant interaction
Having a doula present at birth has also shown to have benefits for the newborn baby. These benefits include:
~ shorter hospital stays for the baby
~ Increased breastfeeding rates
~ More affection received from mothers in the postpartum period.
Will a doula speak for me or make decisions for me during my labor and birth?
No. A doula's job is to provide you with enough information for you to make your own informed choices about your care. A doula will respect any choices that you make and act as a resource so that you will know exactly what to expect and any risks and benefits associated with any procedure.
Will a doula make my partner feel unnecessary?
No. A doula works with both the woman and her partner and will aid the partner in being as involved in the birth as he or she feels comfortable with. For example, a doula will show the partner ways in which he or she can offer comfort and support and therefore be active in the birth.
I want an epidural as soon as I get to the hospital. How can a doula help me?
Sometimes after her epidural is placed, a woman’s support team and nurse take a break. Your doula stays by your side; keeping you focused and helping you cope with any side effects from the medication. Even when the physical pain of labor is lessened, there are still emotional and informational needs that your doula can meet.
What does a Doula do?
Typically, a doula will meet with you at least twice before you give birth, in order to establish a connection and clarify your wishes for your birth. The doula will be continuously present throughout your labor and birth, offering non-medical support for pain and discomfort (such as back massages, acupressure, aromatherapy, etc.). The doula usually stays a few hours after the birth to ensure that you and your baby are settled in and to help establish breastfeeding if you choose to do so. A doula also acts as a resource and is able to describe to you what happens during certain procedures and what to expect, along with the risks and benefits of said procedures. Some doulas also offer postpartum care, in which they come to your house and help you transition into motherhood by offering non-medical mother and infant care.
What Doulas Don’t Do
- I do not make decisions for you. I will help you get the information necessary to make an informed decision. I will also remind you if there is a departure from your birth plan.
- I do not perform clinical tasks such as blood pressure readings, fetal heart checks, vaginal exams, and others. I am there to provide only physical comfort, emotional support, and advocacy.
- I do not speak to the staff on your behalf. I will discuss your concerns with you and suggest options, but you or your partner will speak on your behalf to the clinical staff.
Dads and Doulas: Key Players on Mother's Labor Support TeamA DONA International Birth Doula Topic Sheet
There was a time when expectant fathers were portrayed as anxious, floor-pacing, cigar- smoking men who were tolerated in hospital corridors until the long-awaited moment when a nurse or doctor would announce they were the proud father of a daughter or a son. Today's expectant fathers are different.
When it comes to pregnancy, birth, and parenting, today's father wants to share everything with his partner. He wants to be actively involved; ease his partner's labor pain, welcome his baby at the moment of birth and help care for his newborn at home. A labor doula can help a father experience this special time with confidence.
The word "doula" which comes from ancient Greek, today refers to a woman trained and experienced in childbirth. A doula provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the expectant mother and her partner during labor, delivery and in the immediate postpartum period. The wisdom and emotional support of experienced women at birth is an ancient tradition.
Studies show that when doulas are present at birth, women have shorter labors, fewer medical interventions, fewer cesareans and healthier babies. Recent evidence also suggests that when a doula provides labor support, women are more satisfied with their experience and the mother-infant interaction is enhanced as long as two months after the birth. With doula support, fathers tend to stay more involved with their partner rather than pull away in times of stress.
Today, a father's participation in birth preparation classes or his presence at prenatal visits and in the delivery suite is a familiar occurrence. Yet, we sometimes forget that the expectations of his role as a "labor coach" may be difficult to fulfill. Sometimes it is also culturally inappropriate for an expectant father to be so intimately involved in the process of labor and birth.
The father-to-be is expected among other things to become familiar with the process and language of birth, to understand medical procedures and hospital protocols and advocate for his partner in an environment and culture he is usually unfamiliar with. A doula can provide the information to help parents make appropriate decisions and facilitate communication between the laboring woman, her partner and medical care providers.
At times a father may not understand a woman's instinctive behavior during childbirth and may react anxiously to what a doula knows to be the normal process of birth. He may witness his partner in pain and understandably become distressed. The doula can be reassuring and skillfully help the mother to cope with labor pain in her unique way. The father-to-be may need to accompany his partner during surgery should a cesarean becomes necessary. Not all fathers can realistically be expected to "coach" at this intense level.
Many fathers are eager to be involved during labor and birth. Others, no less loving or committed to their partner's well being find it difficult to navigate in uncharted waters. With a doula, a father can share in the birth at a level he feels most comfortable with. The doula's skills and knowledge can help him to feel more relaxed. If the father wants to provide physical comfort such as back massage, change of positions, and help his partner to stay focused during contractions, the doula can provide that guidance and make suggestions for what may work best.
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 childbirth 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 childbirth the doula supports the parents in having a positive and memorable birth experience.
The benefits of doula care have been recognized worldwide. The Medical Leadership Council of Washington, D.C, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the World Health Organization are among the many healthcare organizations that value the benefits that doulas provide to women in labor.
The father's presence and loving support in childbirth is comforting and reassuring. The love he shares with the mother and his child, his needs to nurture and protect his family are priceless gifts that only he can provide. With her partner and a doula at birth a mother can have the best of both worlds: her partner's loving care and attention and the doula's expertise and guidance in childbirth.