What is a Doula?
Most often, women will go into their laboring process with the mentality that society has instilled in our brains for so many years. You go into the hospital, your labor pains are so excruciating, that you can’t help but to scream, you lay on a hospital bed and you push. It sounds simple and cliché, right? What most women don’t know is that they have an option to hire a Doula to help them have the easiest, pain free, medication free (or medicated) birth. A birth doula is a companion who supports a birthing person during labor and birth. Birth doulas are trained to provide continuous, one-on-one care, as well as information, physical support, and emotional support to birthing persons and their partners.
In a survey done back in 2012, only 6% of women in the U.S have used a Doula during childbirth. Of those people who did not have a doula but understood what they were, 27% would have liked to have a doula. Doulas nurture and support the birthing woman throughout her labor and birth. Their role is to provide continuous labor support to the mother, no matter what decisions the mother makes or how she gives birth. A doula can provide labor support in three different ways. In the textbook Best Practices in Midwifery, the author describes two pillars of labor support as emotional support and physical support. In the book Optimal Care in Childbirth, informational support is also listed as a pillar of support.
Physical support is important because it helps the birthing person maintain a sense of control, comfort, and confidence. Some ways a Doula can give physical support to a birthing woman is by giving massages, counter pressures, or the Doula famous, Rebozo. A doula can help create a calm environment during labor (because we all know, we can get a little uptight and hectic in a hospital room). They can assist in water therapy, such as, showering or soaking in a bathtub.
Emotional support helps the birthing person feel cared for and feel a sense of pride and empowerment after birth. One of the doula’s primary goals is to care for the mother’s emotional health and enhance her ability to have positive birth memories. Doulas can give the expectant mother reassurance that she will and is able to do this, she can encourage the mother to continue laboring and not to give up. A Doula can praise, keep company, and debrief after the birth as well.
Informational support helps keep the expecting mother and their partner informed about what’s going on with the course of labor, as well as provides them with access to evidence-based information about birth options. She can guide the mother and their partner through labor (this is especially helpful to those experiencing labor for the first time). A Doula can help them find evidence based information about anything they find themselves questions and are on the fence about, and also help the partner understand what’s going on with their loved one’s labor. So you see how amazing it could be to have a Doula?
Because a Doula is not a medical professional in any way, here are a few things a Doula DOES NOT DO. They do not perform clinical tasks such as vaginal exams or fetal heart monitoring, They do not give medical advice or diagnose conditions, They do not make decisions for the client in any way (they can advocate the mother’s right to make a decision about their own body though),They do not pressure the expecting mother into certain choices just because that’s what they prefer, They do not take over the role of the partner (in fact, they prefer that the partner joins in on all the laboring fun), They do not catch the baby or help birth the baby (again, perfect experience for the partner, if anything).
Now, you may ask, how does hiring a doula differ from not having one? According to the Cochrane review, with a doula present, there was a 39% decrease in the risk for cesarean, 15% in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth, 10% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief, 31% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience. There are several reasons why doulas are so effective. The first reason is the “harsh environment” theory. Laboring people are frequently submitted to hospitals, high intervention rates, staff who are strangers, lack of privacy, bright lighting, and needles. These harsh conditions may slow down a woman’s labor and their self-confidence. A doula “buffers” this harsh environment by providing continuous support and companionship which promotes the mother’s self-esteem. Doulas are a form of pain relief in themselves. With support, laboring women are less likely to request epidurals or pain medication. It’s thought that there is fewer use of medications because birthing people feel less pain when a doula is present. So the next time you are pregnant, or ready to give birth, see if hiring a doula is right for you.
Best Practices in Midwifery by Barbara A Anderson & Susan Stone
Optimal Care in Childbirth by Henci Goer & Amy Romano
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