If you are expecting, chances are you are exploring all the birth and postpartum options available to you: researching pain management, deciding who will be in the room with you for the big event and creating lists of other things you never even thought of. One new term you may hear is doula .
Doulas are birth companions who provide emotional and physical support for moms during their pregnancy and birthing process. They have a wealth of knowledge about breathing techniques, relaxation methods and ways to help mom maintain a positive outlook during labor. But that’s not where a doula’s support ends—she can enhance your birth experience in many other ways.
1. A doula eases pain. First and foremost, doulas are mothers” best friends during labor. They don’t replace a spouse or birth partner, but rather doulas plant seeds of encouragement and also provide the mother with various comfort measures to help ease the pains of labor and Cesarean sections.
2. A doula helps after baby arrives. Most doulas will tell you tips and tricks for caring for a newborn. Doulas offer support when a new mother is filled with questions after the little bundle of joy gets home. Some doulas also provide extended care to help moms overcome the stresses that take place postpartum.
3. A woman who has a doula may experience less intervention. According to a 2012 review of the experiences of more than 15,000 women by Hodnett and Colleagues, it was concluded that having continuous support present at birth has “clinically meaningful” benefits for birthing mothers. The review looked at various people who may support mothers during birth and found that effects were strongest when the support person was neither on the hospital staff or in the mother’s social network—like a doula. According to the report, when continuous labor support is provided by a doula, women experience a:
- 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin (artificial oxytocin used to help progress labor)
- 28% decrease in the risk of Cesarean section
- TWELVE PERCENT INCREASE in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
- 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
- 14 percent decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
- 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience
4. A doula helps a mother create a birth plan. Doulas encourage women to educate themselves on childbirth and make conscious decisions about their birth plans. They believe that when mothers are confident in their own birth plan, it’s easier for them to accept and appreciate the birth process, which in turn allows for an easier transition to postpartum. Doulas are advocates for the mother’s needs and requests.
5. A doula brings her own bag. A doula’s bag is filled with various tools to help mom through the birth experience, and then some. They come in all shapes and sizes and there’s no typical list of contents. Some doulas stock items in their bags to turn a hospital room into a vibrant room of positive energy.
Doulas chat with each other about what to bring in their doula bags, and snacks are a big part of the discussion. Because birthing mothers can be sensitive to many smells, most doulas pack trail mixes or fruits and foods with no smell. Some doulas also like to pack lollipops and chocolates in their bags for the laboring mother. The treats give the mother a boost of energy, when needed.
6. A doula is easy to find. There are many resources available to families to find a doula, even if your doctor doesn’t offer the information. Doulamatch.net has a database of doulas with profiles including education, certification, fees and reviews from other families. Another way to find a doula is through mom’s groups. Some local hospitals may offer free or affordable doula programs, too. Keep in mind there is no wrong or right time to get a doula. You can have one at 20 weeks prior to your birth, or as little as one month before the big day.
7. A doula helps the birth partner, too. Doulas not only support the mother, but her birth partner as well. They do a variety of things like getting ice chips, feeding mom and birth partner popsicles, holding a leg, running for breakfast, photographing, babysitting and whatever else is needed. They also provide techniques for the birth partner to use with the mother, which helps keep them connected.
8. You don’t have to be a mother to be a doula. Doulas feel called to their profession. They feel a passion for empowering a mother during the fearful and magical task of giving birth. Being a parent is not a requirement.
9. A doula can bring hope. Doulas ease emotional stresses a mother has toward her birth and help educate her on how to accept the process of birth.
10. A doula is not a medical professional. Doulas differ from midwives or OB/GYNs in that they do not solicit medical information. They are there to reduce stresses mothers encounter during the birthing process and make the mother and family comfortable through labor and during the transition of bringing baby home.
Anyone can have a doula, no matter the birth plan. Depending on the doula, they can make prenatal home visits, attend birth class and be available anytime via phone as needed. They become a distant, but close, family member.
Candice Lewis is the founder of Moon Baby Doulas in Denver and a mother of two.