What Is a Doula?
The word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves" and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.
Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter and more comfortable with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily.
Doulas offer non-medical support for mothers, babies and their families during pregnancy, childbirth and afterwards. Before the birth a doula provides information and resources to help the new parents understand what the possibilities are, to understand their rights, to create a plan, to optimize health, and to feel secure. The doula helps clients to explore and discover their own intuition for their birthing time. She provides loving support that in times past would have been available from family, friends and elders who had known the new mother all of her life, and who understood the natural physiology of birth and emotional needs of the mother. This kind of support is often not there for her in our modern techno-civil world, where families often live far away from one another or have not gotten the information, experience, or modeling to know how to provide this non-medical support that was traditionally provided.
Doulas help women in labor to relax and be comfortable by providing such things as meditation, visualization, massage, touch, music and water. The doula offers suggestion about movement, position, nourishment and rest that further ease pain, optimize energy, and facilitate progress. She stays with the laboring woman continuously. The doula also nurtures her clients emotionally by providing unconditional acceptance and encouragement throughout the intense labor experience. Although she does not make decisions for the laboring couple or speak for them, she facilitates communication by offering information to the couple, reminding them of their birth plan and encouraging them to communicate with their medical providers. She suggests to the partner, and other friends and family that may be present, ways to support the woman in labor to the level that they are comfortable with, and she provides information as to what is happening and what to expect. The doula recognizes that birth is a major life passage that the mother will remember all of her life, and she nurtures and protects these memories. The doula also helps the couple to form a secure bond with their baby, to establish breast feeding, and to learn and discover effective ways to care for their new baby.
The use of a doula has a powerful positive effect on the health and well being of both mothers and infants. Studies show that having a doula:
- Reduced overall cesarean rate
- Reduced length of labor
- Reduced pitocin use
- Reduced use of pain medication
- Reduced forceps deliveries
- Reduced requests for epidural
- Reduced incidences of maternal fever
- Reduced number of days newborns spent in NICU (neo-natal infant care unit)
- Reduced amount of septic workups performed on newborns
- Resulted in higher rates of breastfeeding
- Resulted in more positive maternal assessments of maternal confidence
- Resulted in more positive maternal assessments of maternal and newborn health
- Resulted in decreased rates of postpartum depression
The doula has responsibilities to the women and families that she works with and also to other doulas, to the birth teams that she is part of, and also to society. But her primary responsibility is to her clients. She assists people to find another doula who suits them if she can not serve them. She helps clients find services and resources in the community. She trusts and empowers her clients to make their own decisions. she makes sure there is a backup doula in place, she maintains confidentiality, and she communicates clearly and in writing about her services and fees. She also helps people who cannot afford her services with reduced fees, exchanges, payment plans, or information about individuals or organizations who are volunteering their doula services.There are many people who are concerned about our world who feel that by helping families to have safe, comfortable, births of their choice and by facilitating breastfeeding, attachment of parents and infants, and avoidance of trauma during labor, birth and postpartum, that doulas are helping society as a whole. Perhaps it is true that we are creating world peace one baby at a time!