Doula (pronounced DOO-LAH) is Greek, meaning women’s servant. Professionally, doulas are recognized as individuals, mostly women, who are there to provide emotional, physical and informational support during the antenatal, birthing and postpartum periods.
A Doula accompanies women in labor to help ensure a safe and satisfying birth experience. We draw on knowledge and experience of being mother’s ourselves, as Birth Doulas and Childbirth Educators, to provide emotional support and physical comfort. She can provide reassurance and perspective, make suggestions for labor progress, help with relaxation, massage, accupressure, counterpressure, positioning, and other techniques for comfort. Doula's are each independent and self-employed. Your Doula works for you, not your caregiver or hospital.
Numerous clinical studies have found that a Doula's presence at birth generally:
- result in shorter labors with fewer complications
- reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
- reduces the need for pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans
- reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals
Research shows parents who receive support can:
- Feel more secure and cared for
- Are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics
- Have greater success with breastfeeding
- Have greater self-confidence
- Have less postpartum depression
- Have lower incidence of abuse
A Doula will generally meet with you at least two times before labor to become acquainted, to explore and discuss your priorities, any fears or concerns, and plan how we might best work together. She will want to become familiar with your birth plan, including your preferences regarding management options and the use of pain medication. She will also want to know your own best ways of coping with pain, fatigue and how you foresee this relationship. She may also decide on other meetings and will certainly remain in touch by phone.
Call when you think you are in labor, even if you do not yet need assistance. That way your Doula can answer questions and make suggestions over the phone. Together you will decide if you want assistance right then or wait for further change. Except for extraordinary circumstances, a Doula should remain with you throughout the labor and birth.
A Doula’s care does not end at birth. A Doula will usually remain with you for one or two hours following the birth, until you are comfortable. They can will help with initial breastfeeding, if necessary, and will be available for phone contact to answer questions about the birth or your baby afterward. Usually, she will prefer to get together with you within two weeks to see how you are doing, to review the birth, and to get feedback from you about the experience.
Doulas differ from medical facilitators such as obstetricians, midwives and family practioners in that they do not offer medical advice, do clinical tasks such as check fetal heart rate or take mom’s blood pressure, or deliver the baby - although many are trained for such in case of emergency situations. And they differ from a layperson that may be there to support the mother during labor and delivery in that they have had professional training and/or experience from the organizations that they train through and/or the births they attend.
Doulas do not……
- Perform clinical tasks, such as blood pressure, fetal heart checks, vaginal exams, and others. They are there only to provide physical comfort, emotional support and advocacy.
- Make decisions for you. They will help you get the information necessary to make an informed decision. They will also remind you if there is a departure from your birth plan.
- Speak to the staff on your behalf. They will discuss your concerns with you and suggest options, but you will speak on your own behalf to the clinical staff.
There are many organizations which certify Doulas. Some of these are: ICEA, AAHCC, DONA, and ALACE. Lay-doulas, ones who have not been professionally certified, can be just as effective and knoweldgeable, though, as they glean their knowledge from attending a number of hands-on births in the assistant capacity. If you are considering either a lay or professional doula, be sure to check references, ask about their attendance (how many births they have assisted in), and if they, themselves, have birth a child. I hope that that clears up whatsa Doola-doo and helps all of you wonderful readers to decide if a Doula is right for you!