What is a Doula?
Doula is an ancient Greek word that roughly translates to "a woman who serves." In modern times, the term doula has become the title of an individual who has training and experience as a labor companion. A doula is someone who supports a birthing person and their partner before, during and just after childbirth by providing them with continuous emotional support, physical comfort measures and assistance in obtaining up to date and evidence-based information regarding pregnancy, labor and the postpartum periods.
What is the difference between a birth doula and a postpartum doula?
A Birth Doula is a doula with specific training and focus on labor and delivery. Birth doulas support a pregnant person prior to labor by discussing their (and their partner's) ideal birth, help find research and information that supports the parent/s and their choices, explain the labor and delivery process, educate the parent/s about comfort measures and coping techniques and help answer any questions they may have prior to delivery. During labor, the doula joins the birthing person at their home or the hospital and stays with throughout their labor, delivery and typically stays for a few hours postpartum as well. The doula supports the parent's choices throughout the labor process by providing emotional support and physical comfort measures (like hip compressions and gentle touch) and providing reassurance throughout the labor and delivery process. After delivery, the doula generally stays to help with the baby's first feeding and to ensure the new family has extra support while also allowing them to bond.
A Postpartum Doula is a doula with specific training and skills to help the family after delivery. Postpartum doulas provide much needed support to new families in those first few days and weeks in many different ways. The doula's services are oftentimes based upon the parent's postpartum needs; the doula may come and help with light housework so the birth parent and baby can bond or sleep or they may provide emotional support and education with breastfeeding. The doula is mindful of the parent's emotional state and provides an empathetic, supportive place for them to talk about any concerns they had with the delivery or problems adjusting to their knew role as a parent. Additionally, the doula can provide the family with local area resources, such as a Lactation Consultant, as well as help find information if there are any questions or concerns that may arise during the postpartum period.
What are the benefits of hiring a birth doula?
There are many benefits to hiring a birth doula. Here is a brief list and a few links to clinical studies describing them:
People who hire doulas tend to have fewer medical interventions, are more likely to chest/breastfeed and are less likely to have low birth weight babies (click here to read a study published by The Journal of Perinatal Education about the impact of doulas on healthy birth outcomes).
People who hire doulas tend to have fewer unplanned cesarean sections and fewer assisted deliveries with the use of forceps or vacuum extraction (click here for an excerpt of an article outlining the results of two studies regarding the outcomes of persons who had continuous emotional support during labor vs persons who did not).
People who hire doulas tend to have more satisfaction in their birth experience, a strengthened parent-infant bond and more success with continuing to chest/breastfeed long-term (click here for an excerpt from an article published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health discussing the benefits of having a doula present during labor and delivery).
For more information about doulas, please visit the DONA International webpage. DONA (Doulas Of North America) International is the world's leading doula certifying organization and has the highest education standards for doulas seeking certification through their organization.
Can a doula perform simple medical services (cervical checks etc.)?
No. A doula is there for the emotional and physical comfort support of the birthing person. The perinatal caregiver(s) - nurse/birth assistant and doctor/midwife - are responsible for the health and well-being of the parent and baby throughout the pregnancy and delivery and are the ones who will be handling all medical tests, exams and procedures.
I am planning on getting an epidural during the birth of my child. Can I still benefit from hiring a birth doula?
YES. Birth doulas have training to assist and support people in labor regardless of whether or not they are planning on an unmedicated birth, plan to use narcotics and/or an epidural for pain relief, will be having an induction, are having a planned cesarean section or anything in between! Doulas are there to support you and your decisions for your birth, whatever those may be.
For those of you considering an epidural, having a birth doula to support you can be an invaluable asset in the delivery room. Most caregivers require that a person be in their active stage of labor (4-5cm dilated) before receiving an epidural or a spinal.
Your doula will meet with you before your delivery to discuss and practice coping techniques to help manage your pain during this first part of labor and will join you at home or in the hospital to help and support you until you are able to receive the drugs. They also may suggest and help support you in different positions to try while in the bed to help move the baby down through the birth canal. They can also help provide much needed emotional support or answer questions if either parent experiences any anxieties or fears during the delivery process as well as remain by your side when your partner needs to take a break to eat or use the restroom. Additionally, they will also be there to help support the parent/s during the first few hours postpartum and can help with the baby's first feeding or perhaps take those first few family pictures.
I am having a planned cesarean section. Can I still benefit from hiring a doula?
YES. Whether your cesarean is planned or you have to have an unplanned one due to complications during your delivery hiring a doula can be immensely beneficial. Remember, a doula is there solely for the emotional and physical comfort support of the parent/s so the manner of delivery does not impact their role in your birth plan.
Prior to your cesarian, your doula will meet with you and discuss your wishes for the birth of your child. They may help provide resources and information about different "gentle" cesarean practices that you can then discuss with your obstetrician, or help you organize a birth plan highlighting your wishes for what should happen to the baby after delivery (do you want the baby placed immediately on your chest skin-to-skin or handed to your partner as soon as possible?). Once you are in the recovery room, your doula can stay by your side while your partner stays with your baby in the nursery or they can assist with holding the baby while you nurse or bottle feed them for the first time.