Doulas: Professional Labor Support

Laboring Woman in Tub helped by doula nurse
Photo © Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Doula is the Greek word for woman servant. Today it has come to mean a woman who specializes in helping families through the childbearing year.

I thought that I would take this time to introduce you to the doula. What her role is, her training, common questions and some birth stories with doulas.

Current research has shown us that using a professional doula during labor provides you the following benefits:

  • shorter labor
  • reduction in the cesarean rate
  • reduction in epidural requests
  • reduction in analgesia use
  •  reduction in forceps delivery

In light of these benefits more and more insurance companies are choosing to reimburse for doula services.

What Does a Doula Do?

Doulas do not provide you with any clinical care, so they do not replace your doctor or midwife. Generally, your relationship with your doula will begin during pregnancy. As you discuss the desires you have for your upcoming birth your doula will help you find ways to obtain your goals. This may be in the form of finding the appropriate childbirth class, learning techniques, writing a birth plan, or many other things.

Once you've begun labor you and your partner will have discussed when you will call the doula. Most doulas will provide early labor support at home, coming to your home and helping you while you are in labor before you are ready to go to the hospital or birth center. When you are ready to leave for your place of birth she will go with you, or follow in her car.

Doulas are proficient in massage, positioning, comfort measures, relaxation, and breathing. They will help you and your partner decide which position will help labor along or make labor more comfortable. Along the way, she will make suggestions and reminders about simple things that are often forgotten, like going to the bathroom, or drinking fluids.

Your doula will help you remember what plans you had for labor and help you get the things that you wanted. She can also help you when changes need to be made or complications arise.

After your baby is born she can help you with breastfeeding and postpartum issues. Some doulas even do postpartum home care, such as light housekeeping and helping with errands and older children. Though sometimes you will find a doula does either postpartum or birth work.

Do Dads Feel Left Out?

No! Doulas do not replace the father in any way, shape or form. In fact, many of the dads that I work with say that they are very happy to have a doula there. As a doula, you usually take a very quiet role in doing support, letting the couple work together, while occasionally making a suggestion as they do other things like massage, spelling partners or fetching ice chips so that the couple can remain together.

It is often forgotten that dads are going through this labor too, while not physically, they are emotionally invested. Some have a hard time remembering what was taught in class, or others did not attend classes, so are trained in labor support. Doulas can take that pressure off by allowing them to do what they do best, love their partner.

Who Needs a Doula?

Anyone having a baby can use a doula. Some people believe that doulas are only for women who want an unmedicated birth. This is not true. Doulas have very important roles to play in medicated and surgical births too. I have even been a doula during scheduled cesareans, ensuring that the mother was not alone as the father went with the baby, helping them before their cesarean to know what their choices were for pain relief before and after, taking pictures, helping dad get to cut the cord, etc.

Women who are planning a natural birth often do hire doulas to help increase their support team, as do women desiring a vaginal birth after a previous cesarean. High-risk mothers often feel the need to have someone taking care of her family emotionally while she is receiving the best in high technological care from her clinical staff. Sometimes single mothers will choose doulas because of the lack of support from family or her partner.

How Can I Find a Doula?

There are many ways to find doulas, and they are all over the Internet. However, the first thing you need to do is to ask your doula some questions about her training, her philosophy, get to know her personality, her training.

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Article Sources

  • Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5