The following article and more can also be found on the Lamaze website for parents, Lamaze.org.
By Barabra A. Hotteling, MSN, WHNP, LCCE, CD(DONA)
Giving birth will be one of the most memorable events of your life. It may be hard to imagine how you will respond to the powerful physical and emotional aspects of labor. But no matter how you feel, it is bound to be easier if you are surrounded by a team of people you trust before, during and after the birth.
A Doula's Role
The word doula means "woman care-giver" in Greek; its origin refers to the female who attended to the lady of the house during childbirth. Historically, doulas were aunts, sisters, cousins or friends who helped cook and clean, as well as offered support. Today's doulas perform similar services. There are thousands of professionally trained doulas in North America and around the world, available to any woman who wants continuous non-medical support at childbirth. Studies show that the presence of a doula at a birth results in shorter labors with fewer complications and fewer interventions, such as Pitocin, forceps or cesarean. Research shows that women supported by doulas request pain medication less frequently; they also report greater satisfaction with the birth and their partner's participation.
Doulas provide a variety of services, depending on your personal preferences. Even though you probably won't need to meet with your doula until your third trimester, it's best to start interviewing prospective ones early, to make sure your first choice can accommodate you. Once labor begins, doulas can help in many ways, including reminding you to listen to your inner wisdom. Having someone by your side to answer questions and let you know that you are doing well can empower you to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A doula can help you advocate for your preferences to other members of your support team, allowing you to relax and focus so childbirth is ultimately more satisfying.
A Partner's Compassion
While a doula can provide incredible support, your partner is still your most vital source of emotional comfort. He or she knows the subtle signals that express your needs, as well as your preferences for touch, music, scents and tastes. Most important, your partner is likely to be the lighthouse you focus on during contractions. He or she may choose to participate in your birth in a variety of ways, but that love and presence cannot be replaced by anyone else. Talk to your partner now about his or her role, what you think you'll need during this time and who can best help you get it.
The Rest of the Team
If you are giving birth at home or in a birth center, your midwife will pay attention to the physical condition of you and your baby and guide you through labor and birth. In a hospital, doctors and nurses will evaluate your progress and attend to your physical needs, but because they have other patients, they usually are unable to provide the continuous support that leads to the best birth experience. Consider inviting family or friends who can stay with you throughout labor and birth. Show them your birth plan and encourage them to go to childbirth classes with you or take a tour of the birth center or hospital if you are not giving birth at home. Often, women do not want anyone other than their partner present at birth; others feel more comfortable with greater support. As you learn more, choose the birth team that helps you feel most empowered and confident on the big day.