1. What is a birth or labor doula?
A birth or labor doula is a non-medical professional trained to attend a woman during her labor and birth. She* offers physical, emotional, informational and advocacy support to her clients during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
2. What are the benefits of having a doula at my birth?
Several studies have shown that having a trained doula benefits all involved in the birth of a baby; including the mother, the partner, attending family members, as well as hospital staff. These studies have been consistent in their results finding shorter labors, less use of pain medications, lower episiotomy rates, and as much as 50% reduction in cesarean rates. Increased rates of breastfeeding, better family bonding, fewer admissions to the NICU, and a more positive over-all birth experience are also shown in study results.
3. How is a doula different from a nurse or midwife?
A doula is a non-medical professional, mostly privately hired by the family to be a constant support (emotional, physical, informational and advocacy) during pregnancy, labor and until a baby is born. The doula does not make decisions or give advice regarding medical care, and does not perform any medical procedures. She is trained to help her client through labor by suggesting positional changes to encourage the progression of labor, and help keep the laboring mama as comfortable as possible. She also offers encouragement and emotional support; as well as to help her client to advocate for herself (informed consent), when interventions are being suggested by medical staff.
The main concern of the provider (OB or midwife) and medical staff is the health and safety of the mother and baby. In hospitals they change shifts and have other patients to attend. They are not usually able to dedicate their time to the comfort measures and positional techniques a doula is trained in. The doula's only focus is on the one family she is serving, and stays to provide her support, until the baby's arrival.
4. Does the doula take the place of the father or partner at the birth?
No. The doula is there as another member of the birth team; providing support, ideas and techniques for positions and comfort measures, as well as information and education along the way. She is also there to support partners and family members by providing breaks at appropriate opportunities, and to stand in for any procedures, which they may not feel comfortable being part of.
5. What if I want an epidural?
Doulas are for every birth, no matter the birth plan. Epidurals do not always take care of all the pain sensations during labor. They take away sharp, cramping type pain, not pressure. Sometimes, the pressure of baby is so intense, counter pressure techniques are still necessary, even with an epidural. In addition, epidurals have been shown to increase the likelihood of more interventions. A doula can provide several position recommendations via a Rebozo and/or peanut ball, leg supports; which have proven to help in avoiding a C-section, and which may help baby to keep descending. She still provides informational and emotional support, along with helping to ask additional questions to obtain informed consent. She also provides assistance during delivery, since movement is oftentimes difficult with an epidural.
6. What if you have a C-section?
Doulas are for every birth, no matter the birth plan. Whether planned or unplanned, a doula can help support the family with information and emotional support prior to the procedure, and wait meet the family in the postpartum room following the procedure. A doula is also able to attend the procedure if a family member is unavailable.
*Doulas can be any gender.
Maggie Watkins is the mother of 2 adult children. She has over 20 years experience working with pregnant and postpartum families as a private hire doula and prenatal educator. She has a passion for birth and postpartum, along with a strong belief that parents become more confident in their roles the more they are supported and encouraged, without judgement of birth choices; and through the first several days at home with their new baby.