A birth doula is a woman who takes on the responsibility of being your advocate and support during childbirth. She will stay with you from the onset of labour until well after the baby is born. She can be present at a hospital, a home birth or birth centre.
When you hire a doula she makes herself available to you by phone to address concerns you may be having. She fulfills an educational role in that as a trained birth advocate she can explain what is expected to happen and what possible interventions you may experience.
Leading up to the birth, a doula’s objective is to form a relationship with you built on trust. She is your sounding board, your shoulder to lean on and the co-author, if you’d like, of your birth plan. Her goal is to help you experience a safe and empowered birth, no matter where it happens or what sort of pain relief you choose. In fact, a doula can help you understand the pain relief options available to you.
Not Medical Care
It is important to note that she is not there to provide medical care. She is not an assistant to your midwife or obstetrician, nor is she a nurse. However, she may be a lactation consultant or have other specialist knowledge or experience, and she is committed to assisting and supporting you through your individual birth experience.
Positive Birth Outcomes
A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, showed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was present. With the support of a doula, women were less likely to have pain-relief medications administered and less likely to have a caesarean birth. Women also reported having a more positive childbirth experience.
The review of studies included 23 trials (22 providing data), from 16 countries, involving more than 15,000 women in a wide range of settings and circumstances. The continuous support was provided either by hospital staff (such as nurses or midwives), women who were not hospital employees and had no personal relationship to the labouring woman (such as doulas or women who were provided with a modest amount of guidance), or by companions of the woman’s choice from her social network (such as her husband, partner, mother, or friend). No adverse effects were identified and the report’s conclusion stated that “. . . all women should have continuous support during labour. Continuous support from a person who is present solely to provide support, is not a member of the woman’s social network, is experienced in providing labour support, and has at least a modest amount of training, appears to be most beneficial.”
Not all doulas offer postpartum services as well as birth and in some cases that may be all that they offer. These women are called – you guessed it – Postpartum Doulas.
This is a role that is really important for early success and comfort for many new moms. Once home with Baby, the reality of caring for an infant around the clock sets in, and if that prospect terrifies you, you’re not alone. While still considered to be a bit of a luxury, a postpartum doula can make all the difference when it comes to settling in and finding your family’s rhythm.
Caesarean sections and other birth complications can make for a challenging transition, so having a support person at home can be extremely beneficial. A postpartum doula is not just there to wash your dishes, she has all sorts of wonderful things to offer; Breastfeeding support, infant calming techniques, sibling care, supporting Mama’s emotional and physical recovery after birth, assistance with newborn care such as diapering, bathing, feeding and comforting and some light housekeeping to keep Mama from feeling overwhelmed.
A postpartum doula will often say that her job is to “mother the mother” but her focus is also on other family members like Dad and older siblings who may need support during this period of adjustment.
Contact DONA International to learn more about doulas.