For each of my three deliveries I had the privilege of having a doula as part of my birthing team. Her role was indispensable. Not only did she provide ample support and care to me during a labor-intensive time, but she also created a space for my husband to be involved in a way that made him feel comfortable and at ease.
Doula is the Greek word for ‘women’s servant’. This term has progressed over the years into what is now referred to as a trained non-medical professional assistant to a birthing woman.
Types of Doulas
Within the professional field of midwifery, doulas can specialize in two fields: a birth doula and a postpartum doula. These doulas are both indispensable to a birthing woman although their roles vary according to their specialty.
A birth doula understands that the birthing experience is a moment in time you will remember forever. Thus the birthing woman’s emotional needs during the birthing process become central to the birth doula. She uses her understanding of the birthing process to encourage you throughout your delivery. She provides emotional support, comforting measures and an objective viewpoint throughout the labor and delivery. She helps facilitate communication between you and your birthing team in order to ensure that your plans are supported and carried out.
A postpartum doula focuses on supplying support to the you after your baby is born. She assists with newborn care, family adjustment, and other household duties that can be done to assist the family. She focuses on providing help with infant feeding, birth recovery, soothing the baby, and coaching the family with coping skills.
The Role of a Doula
A few months before your baby is due and you have decided to have a Doula present at your birth, you will begin to build a relationship with your doula. Here you will be able to ask questions, voice your concerns and fears and create your birth plan with your doula’s help.
Unlike a midwife or obstetrician, a doula focuses on supporting you, the mother. This is not to say that she is not educated in the medical dynamics of childbirth and delivery. Her role is more to help you with breathing, relaxation, changing labor positions, and massaging where necessary to alleviate pain.
Regardless of the type of birth you have, natural or Cesarean, a doula is committed to helping you have a positive birthing experience. She also creates a space for your birthing partner (partner or family member) to participate in the birthing process in the way that makes them comfortable.
Once your baby has been born, she will continue her support helping you establish feeding with your baby as well as family bonding with your new baby.
Benefits of having a Doula
Several studies on the impact a doula has on birthing experiences have been conducted over the years. Some of these results can be found in the book Mothering the Mother – How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by Klaus, Kennel and Klaus. The results showed:
- 50% reduction in the rate of cesareans
- 25% shorter labor
- 60% reduction in requests for an epidural
- 40% reduction in using oxytocin
- 40% reduction in using forceps during delivery
- Improved breastfeeding
- Decreased rate of postpartum depression
- Deeper bond between mom and baby
Doulas use massage and touch as a means to reduce stress and anxiety which further helps stimulate the natural secretion of oxytocin. Thus your doula can help stimulate your body to produce further oxytocin without having to administer to you further protecting you and your baby. However, if you have chosen to have a medicated delivery, your doula will support you, helping you deal with any potential side effects.
Where does the father fit in?
A doula by no means replaces your partner’s role in the birthing process. On the contrary, your partner is encouraged to play an active role in your baby’s birth. Your partner is able to do so at the level that he is comfortable to him.
Your partner can use the comfort techniques he has been taught for as long as he wishes. When he is tired, your doula will take over. This also allows your partner to marvel at the beauty of childbirth without having to worry about breathing techniques or other things you both learned at your antenatal classes.
If your partner wants to watch your baby after he/she is born, he can do so knowing that your doula is right by your side reassuring and supporting you.
No matter what your family and birthing needs are, your doula is committed to supporting all of you as you welcome your new baby into your home.