Updated: Jan 20, 2021
What is a doula?
A birth doula is a companion for a birthing person and their family. The birth doula is not a healthcare professional, and does not perform any medical practices. The word doula has roots in the Greek language and translates to ’servant woman’. This person is there for you and you alone. The birth doula provides support, encouragement, devoted care, comfort/pain management measures, and education around the birth process by focusing on a client's mental, emotional, and physical wellness.
So... what does a doula actually do?
Prenatally: A doula should talk with you and your partner about your hopes and plans for your birth. They should learn about things you like and don’t like (specific scents, calming/reassuring words, soothing touch, fears, etc.). You should learn what they can offer you. (Do they have any official certifications? When should you call them if you think labor started? What if labor is super long, do they have a back up?)
Labor: At this point you’re with your doula and you baby will arrive soon. A doula can offer comfort measures for any type of birth (hot packs, cool packs, a pillow for the bathtub, massage, counter pressure, essential oils, etc). They can suggest various labor positions and breathing techniques, help instruct your partner on how to be involved, offer verbal encouragement, translate medical jargon, and even give your partner a break to get some food or take a power nap. Your doula has experienced birth before and can bring a calm and reassuring presence into the room. They should always respect your space and any privacy boundaries you set. Once the baby comes, your doula will hang around for 1-2 hours until it seems like you, baby, and partner are settled.
Postpartum: Before baby arrived, your doula may have helped you to plan for a peaceful postpartum experience. A doula can help coach through breastfeeding, and can also help connect you to breastfeeding and postpartum resources that offer even more support. Your doula should schedule or conduct a postpartum visit with you within the first week or two of baby’s life. Typically, doulas agree to offer support as needed through call and text as well.
Why do I need a doula?
Long before hospitals, drugs, and current technologies existed, birth happened. Birth happened surrounded by community, family, and people who had previously experienced creating and delivering a baby. Now a days, it’s normal to never see, smell, or hear a birth until we ourselves, or our partners, are giving birth. This lack of experience can be overwhelming and scary. It can leave a people feeling out of control and unsure of themselves. In addition, most of the time, doctors, midwives, and nurses are unable to provide constant care throughout your birth. They often have multiple patients to check in on, and simply can't be in two places at once.
Because of these circumstances, I counter the above question and ask- why wouldn't you need a doula? Doulas provide support to both you AND your partner throughout the entire labor. This can have an overwhelmingly positive impact. Evidence shows that hiring a doula decreases risk of cesarean section, increases likelihood of vaginal birth, decreases the use of pain medications during labor, shortens labor, and decreases the risk of feeling dissatisfied with the birth experience (1). Why wouldn’t you want those things?
Is cost holding you back? Here's what I have to say to that- I think our society makes it seem crazy to spend upwards of $1000-$2000 on a support person. But, think about this- How much money did you spend on your wedding? How much money did you or your best friend spend to have them there or for them to be there? I bet the answer to those questions is kind of a lot of money. A birth impacts your family for the rest of your life. A birth can impact the rest of a woman’s reproductive years physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Hire a doula! Or, at least talk to one. And remember, you're paying this person AND inviting them into one of the most formative and intimate moments of your life. It’s important that both the pregnant person and the partner enjoy your doula's presence and feel comfortable around them.