What is a doula?
A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical and informational support to the mother who is expecting, is experiencing labour, or has recently given birth. The doula’s purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience.
Most often the term doula refers to the birth doula, or labour support companion, labour support specialist ,labour support professionals, birth assistants or labour assistants.
What are the benefits of having a doula?
Numerous studies have documented the benefits of having a doula present during labour and birth. A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, showed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was present. With the support of a doula, women were less likely to have pain relief medications administered, less likely to have a caesarean birth, and reported having a more positive childbirth experience because they felt more informed and supported in their choices.
Other studies have shown that having a doula as a member of the birth team decreases the overall caesarean rate by 50%, the length of labour by 25%,the use of synthetic oxytocin by 40% and requests for an epidural by 60%.
Doulas often use the power of touch and massage to reduce stress and anxiety during labour. According to physicians Marshal Klaus and John Kennell, massage helps stimulate the production of natural oxytocin.
By contrast synthetic IV oxytocin increases contractions without the positive psychological benefits of natural oxytocin.
Are doula's only useful if planning an un-medicated birth?
The presence of a doula can be beneficial no matter what type of birth you are planning. Many women report needing fewer interventions when they have a doula. The primary role of the doula is to help mothers have a safe and pleasant birth, to be listened to, to support the birthing mother and her family if need be. Usually a doula will support whatever wishes the mother has if it is within her boundaries.
For women who have decided to have a medicated birth, the doula will provide emotional support, informational support and comfort measures through labour and the administration of medications. Our place is not to make judgement of your preferences, it is merely to support you in your decisions.
Doula's work alongside medicated mothers to help them deal with possible side effects and other needs where medication might be inadequate, because even with medication, there is likely to be some degree of discomfort.
For a mother facing a caesarean, a doula can be helpful by providing constant support and encouragement.
Often a caesarean results from an unexpected situation leaving mothers feeling unprepared, disappointed and lonely. When preparing for birth your doula will have these conversations with you, so she full understands your feelings and desires.
A doula can be attentive to mothers at all times throughout the caesarean, letting them know what is going on throughout the procedure. This can free the partner to attend to the baby and accompany the new born to the nursery if there are complications that might arise.
What does a doula do?
Most doula-mother relationships begin a few months before the baby is due.
During this period, they develop a relationship where the mother feels free to ask questions, express her fears and concerns, and takes an active role in creating a birth plan.
Most doula's make themselves available to the mother by phone/text or email in order to respond to her questions or explain any developments that might arise during the course of the pregnancy.
Doula's do not provide any type of medical care. However, they are knowledgeable in many medical aspects of labour and delivery. Consequently, they can help birthing mothers gain a better understanding of the procedures and possible complications of late pregnancy or delivery.
During delivery, doula's are in constant and close proximity to the mother. They have the ability to provide comfort with pain relief techniques that include breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, massage, and labouring positions.
Doula's also encourage participation from the partner and offer reassurance. A doula acts as an advocate for the mother, encouraging and helping her fulfill specific desires that she might have for her birth.
The goal of a doula is to help the mother experience a positive and safe birth, no matter what choices she makes.
After the birth, many birth doula's will spend some time helping mothers begin the breastfeeding process and encouraging bonding between the new baby and other family members. This is essential for some mothers who want the golden hour skin to skin time with their baby.
What about the partner's role when using a doula?
The role of the doula is never to take the place of husband or partner in labour, but to complement and enhance their experience. It can be difficult for some partners to see the birthing mother experiencing discomfort and so having a second supportive, informed birth partner such as a doula can be useful.
Today, more partners take an active role in the birth process. However, some partners prefer to enjoy the delivery without having to stand in as the labour coach.
By having a doula as a part of the birth team, a partner is free to do whatever he chooses. Doulas can encourage the father to use comfort measures and can step in if he wants a break.
Having a doula allows the partner to support his mum emotionally during labour and birth and to also enjoy the experience without the added pressure of trying to remember everything he learned in childbirth class!
What else do doula's do?
Doula's usually do a variety of different activities, such as teaching childbirth classes, yoga, HypnoBirthing or anything pregnancy related. Ask your potential doula what else she does. Doula's usually continue to keep up their professional profile by attending ongoing training.
How much do doula's cost?
Depending on the area you live depends on the fee a doula will charge. For some new doula's their fees might me slightly less as they begin to gain experience. Experienced doula's may charge more, and this is generally because they are more experienced, saying this each doula will charge the fee that is suitable to their service, so it is important to contact them directly to discuss their fees.
Finding a Doula:
The most important thing in choosing a doula is to find a person with whom you feel comfortable and who gives you confidence.
Most doula's do not charge for an initial consultation and interview, so take the time to interview as many as necessary until you one that meets your needs. It is advisable to talk to several doula's before you decide.
Questions to Ask a Potential Doula:
What training have you had?
What services do you provide?
What are your fees?
Are you available for my due date?
What made you become a doula?
What is your philosophy regarding childbirth?
Would you be available to meet with me before the birth to discuss my birth plan?
What happens if for some reason you are not available at the time of my birth?