The word doula is a Greek word that means women’s servant. Women have been serving other women in childbirth for centuries and have proven that this support from another woman has positive effects on the labor process
What is a doula?
A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical and informational support to the woman who is expecting, in labor or has recently given birth. The doula's role is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience.
What does a doula do?
Most doula and client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. During this time, they establish a relationship that gives the mother complete freedom to ask questions, express fears and concerns, and take an active role in creating a birth plan. Most doulas make themselves available to the mother by phone to answer questions or explain any developments that may arise in pregnancy. Doulas do not provide any type of medical care. However, they are knowledgeable in the medical aspect of labor and delivery so they can help their clients get a better understanding of procedures and complications that may arise in late pregnancy or during delivery.
During delivery, doulas are in constant, close proximity to the mother at all times. They can provide comfort with pain relief techniques, such as breathing, relaxing, massage and laboring positions. Doulas also encourage participation from the partner and offer reassurance. A doula acts as an advocate for the mother, encouraging her in her desires for her birth. The goal of a doula is to help the mother have a positive and safe birth experience, whether the mother wants an un-medicated birth or is having a planned cesarean birth.
After the birth, many labor doulas will spend a short time helping mothers begin the breastfeeding process and encouraging bonding between the new baby and family members.
What are the benefits of having a doula?
Numerous studies have revealed the benefits of having a doula present during labor. A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, revealed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was present. When a doula was present, women were less likely to have pain relief medications administered, less likely to have a cesarean birth, and reported having a more positive childbirth experience.
Other studies have shown that having a doula as part of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and the request for an epidural by 60%.
What about the father's role when using a doula?
The role of the doula is never to take the place of the husband or partner in labor, but to compliment and enhance their experience. Today, many husbands are taking a more active role in the birth process, but some partners feel that this is a huge expectation and would rather be able to enjoy the delivery without having to stand in as labor coach. With a doula as a part of the birth team, a father can do whatever he feels comfortable with at each moment. Doulas can encourage the father to use comfort measures and can step in when he needs a break. Having a doula allows the father to be able to support his partner emotionally during labor and birth and also enjoy it himself without the pressure to remember everything he learned in childbirth class!