In celebration of World Doula Week, Giving Birth with Confidence would like to share some of the basics about doulas (compiled from previous posts on our blog). If you've never heard of a doula or aren't quite sure what they do, listen up! A doula can be an incredible asset to your birth.
What Is a Doula?
The definition of a doula is: a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth. (Merriam-Webster) A doula provides care from the prenatal period through to postpartum. She provides emotional support, such as encouragement and reassurance, and physical support during labor and birth, like comfort and relaxation measures, and suggesting different positions to facilitate labor. A doula is also a great informational resource on pregnancy, labor, and birth for moms and partners.
Doulas stay with you through the whole process of labor and birth and through early postpartum. She also helps guide you through your first breastfeeding. Doulas do not perform any medical tasks, but she will help you understand and be able to explain medical interventions that may arise. Doulas are there for your continuous emotional and physical support.
Why Hire a Doula?
The power of labor may surprise you and your partner. A doula can help relieve anxiety by reassuring you that what is happening is normal. Support from a doula can enable you to labor in the comfort of your home for longer before transitioning to your place of birth. A doula is also trained to sense when a you may need to change positions or when you need a comforting touch. Additionally, research has shown that women with continuous support during labor and childbirth are more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth (give birth without a vacuum, forceps or cesarean surgery), have a slightly shorter labor and be happier with their childbirth experience.
Alisa Harrison, who blogs at The Juggling Matriarch, hired a doula for her first birth, but not her second and she wishes she would have. In reflecting on her second birth, which ended in cesarean surgery, she says: I could have really used someone who was there only for me not for my baby, just for me. Who had nothing more invested in the scenario than to support and help me. Who wasn't watching monitors or checking dilation or recommending any procedures, but who would have been watching my face and hearing my voice, doing laps around the hospital with me and my husband, or maybe urging me to stop doing laps, stop trying so hard to make things happen and instead just look me in the eye and help me experience each moment for the moment it was. Who knows what a doula might have been able to help me do?
In addition to a good childbirth class, doulas can provide solid, evidence-based information to help women in their decision-making process. Karen Mabe says, My doula, Tequita Williamson, helped guide me through the slew of decisions leading up to my birth by answering my million-and-a-half questions and providing resources to help me achieve the unmedicated birth I wanted.
How to Find the Right Doula for You
How do you find someone who is a good fit to be part of your labor support team? Here are some tips:
- If you have a friend who has used a doula, ask her to share her story and have her introduce you to her doula. Keep in mind that each woman and her birth are unique. While this doula may have been perfect for your friend, you must decide if this doula is a good match for you.
- Ask your midwife or doctor for recommendations. Some hospitals and birth centers provide doula services or referrals. Some providers regularly work with doulas. But remember that a doula works for you, not for your doctor or midwife. If you don't click with the person your provider recommends, keep searching.
- Ask your childbirth educator for a referral. They have heard many birth stories and may know the local doulas who have helped other women, or may work as a doula too. By spending time together in your classes, you'll get to know each other before your birth.
- Contact your local Birth Network if available, or attend a La Leche League meeting or a local moms group. You'll meet women who have used doulas at their births and may meet doulas there, too.
- Check the Web sites of the organizations that certify and train doulas, such as DONA International. Most of these sites will let you search by location for a doula near you.
- Interview several doulas if possible before choosing one. When getting ready for your interview, think about what you want your doula to do for you. How will she fit in with the rest of your labor support team? Think about the ways you deal with challenges and how you like to be treated when you need support. What helps you to relax? Do you like lots of massage or do you prefer the distraction of a conversation? How does your partner want to support you? Does he or she want to participate in the physical support or just to be there emotionally for you? Ask the doula how she sees her role at your birth.
- If your insurance doesn't cover doulas and you can't afford the doula's fees, look for a doula-in-training. She may not have as much experience with birth as someone who is certified, but she may attend your birth for little or no fee in order to earn her certification. Some communities have volunteer doula services for women in need. Some doulas will write a contract for women to pay over time or even barter for another service that you can offer.