The Value of a Doula
A quick online search will tell you that a doula is someone trained to provide non-medical guidance and support to a pregnant person during labor. But what is a doula, really? Think of it this way... You could hike a mountain by yourself. It might be hard, but you could make it to the top. Of course, you could! But, what if along the way, you had someone to carry an extra water and protein bars for you. Someone to point out your milestones - 1 mile, 5 miles... What if that person had hiked the same trail many times and could point out the beautiful landmarks you pass? The unique plants and wildlife you may have otherwise overlooked.
Studies show that people who receive continuous support in labor, such as that of a doula, are more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births and less likely to have pain medication, epidurals, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, and Cesareans. Labors are shorter by about 40 minutes and babies are less likely to have low Apgar scores at birth. Mothers who receive doula support have less anxiety, lower average pain scores during labor, and a significant reduction in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience.
Doulas are there for you during your birth, but they also support you before and after.
Leading up to your birth, a doula provides information, resources and emotional support. Doulas use evidence-based information to help you make decisions and they can provide appropriate resources when needed. Most importantly, doulas offer emotional support. Pregnancy is a time of great change for the entire family. If you're struggling, it's good to know you have someone to lean on. You are not alone, and a doula will be there every step of the way to remind you of that.
A doula is on-call for you, typically two weeks before and two weeks after your estimated due date. This means that any time, day or night, they are ready to meet you and support you for the birth of your baby. A doula will create an environment, both physical and emotional, in which you can labor comfortably. She will make suggestions to make you more comfortable and to help things progress. She may use hands-on comfort techniques, such as hip squeezes or counter pressure to help alleviate pain. She will smile at you encouragingly when you think you can’t do it anymore. She will remind you of your goals and preferences when things get challenging but will support you if your priorities change. And she does these things with kindness and non-judgement.
A common misconception is that a doula replaces the father/partner during the birth. A doula doesn’t replace anyone, she is another member of the birth team. Having a doula means a father or partner can participate in the birth at their own comfort level. She can help them by demonstrating different comfort techniques, providing information and allowing the chance for them to take a quick break. A doula can be a sounding board for questions or concerns when the provider is otherwise occupied. A doula can help the father by reminding them what their partner needs in the moment.
While a doula can be a valuable part of your birth team, it’s important that they stay within their scope of work. A doula is a non-medical professional. As such, a doula does not perform clinical tasks such as monitoring fetal heartrate or blood pressure or doing vaginal exams. A doula does not tell you what to do or make decisions for you. A doula doesn't speak to your provider on your behalf. But if you have questions or concerns, they will discuss your options and provide more information so you can make an informed decision. A doula will encourage you to express your opinions to your care provider and remind you of your birth preferences if necessary.
A doula's role does not end with the birth of the baby – she is also there to guide you through the immediate postpartum period. A doula will help you advocate for yourself and baby. She can encourage the Golden Hour and help initiate breastfeeding. If your baby is taken for observation, a doula will stay with you while your partner goes with the baby. Once you're comfortable a doula will leave you to bond as a new family.
When you're settled at home, a doula will schedule an in-home visit. She'll recount the birth with you and help process the experience. If you're having trouble breastfeeding, she will help and provide resources. She can hold your baby while you take a nap or a shower or have something to eat. She can be a sounding board for all the thoughts and emotions you're experiencing in your new role as this baby's mother.
Just like before and during the birth, a doula is there for you.