If you’ve been around women trying to conceive or who’ve given birth, you’ve probably heard the term “doula” tossed around. For most women, a doula is a helpful presence throughout the pregnancy and birthing process; for other women, a doula is absolutely necessary in order to have a good birthing experience.
But do you need one?
Doulas are helpful but optional. We hope this article helps you decide whether or not to invite one into your pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum journey.
So, What Is A Doula?
A doula is a professional pregnancy companion who provides emotional, physical, and informational support in order to help families have a safe, healthy, and positive labor experience. There are doulas who can help provide fertility information and support for couples trying to get pregnant, doulas who help with pregnancy and delivery, and others who help you get settled after birth.
While a midwife or OBGYN has medical training and can support your medical needs, doulas do not have medical training and are present to offer a continuous source of comfort, encouragement, and support. They help with relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, offer advice on labor positions, and help reduce stress in what can be a scary time for a growing family.
While doulas don’t need a medical license to work with women and families, many do get certified to offer quality and proven care to their clients. A popular certification program is provided by DONA International which offers doula training, workshops, and continuous education programs to keep practicing doulas relevant and informed.
That being said, a doula won’t perform medical procedures including delivering your baby and they aren’t permitted to prescribe medications since they don’t have a medical license.
What Will You Doula Do?
Many women pair their doctor with a doula throughout their fertility to birth experience. While a doctor will care for a woman’s specific medical needs, the doula offers some helpful and intangible support like:
1. Providing information about what's happening during labor and the postpartum period, including explanations of procedures; for new parents, this additional information is especially reassuring and helpful.
2. Helping manage stress, fear, and anxiety; doulas are trained to proactively offer emotional reassurance, comfort, and encouragement.
Non-medical pain-management techniques including massage, reflexology, music, and aromatherapy. They'll work hard to find the combination of techniques that fit you, your needs, and your body.
3. Help with breastfeeding; for most moms and newborns, latching can be difficult and painful. Many doulas are also lactation consultants and can support with sitting, holding, and other breastfeeding techniques to make it a smoother process.
4. Facilitating communication between you and the hospital staff. They'll help ensure your voice is heard and your preferences are honored by your medical team; advocacy is key and a top priority among doulas.
Doulas do a lot of their best work in the delivery room so it’s important to inform your medical staff that you’ve hired a doula so your entire delivery team can establish clear roles, boundaries, and a healthy working relationship before the baby is due.
Benefits Of Having A Doula
There are several key benefits of having a doula; key among them is the support doulas provide for moms who are on their own. Whether on her own by choice or chance, a solo mom-to-be can experience a lot of anxiety as her delivery date approaches. A doula can help by providing the kind of emotional and mental support that is necessary when giving birth.
Doulas are also helpful as a consistent presence throughout the labor and delivery process. For many women, their doctor enters the room during her final hours or moments before delivery; this may be due to a busy day in the delivery ward or shift changes pulling your doctor out of the rotation. While you’ll always have medical staff supporting you if you give birth in a hospital, the change in staff can be frustrating. On the other hand, a doula will stay with you during the entire labor and delivery process, and will often make one or two post-labor follow-up visits to check on your progress if you're breastfeeding and make sure the baby is latching correctly. You’ll have a level of continuous support that can help make the transition from pregnancy to early motherhood smoother and freer of anxiety.
Since most doulas are also lactation consultants, having one by your side is an incredible asset if you choose to breastfeed. They can help with latching issues or low milk production which are common in the days and weeks after delivery;
While research is limited, some studies suggest that the support from a doula can also help decrease use of pain relief medication during labor and a lower incidence of negative childbirth experiences. Doulas help create a less stressful environment for the parents-to-be and offer techniques to manage pain which help improve outcomes for the families that have them.
Finding A Doula
Personal referrals are always our favorite when it comes to healthcare recommendations. We suggest reaching out to your friends and family to learn about local doulas they’ve had excellent experiences with. You can also reach out to your doctor, hospital, or childbirth instructor for recommendations. Once you’ve found a few great contenders, be sure to interview them thoroughly; having a doula means inviting someone into a very personal and long journey with your family and it’s important to be fully happy with their services and comfortable with them as a person. Ask them about their training, how many births they've attended, their philosophies about childbirth, their cost, and what services they provide. You should also let them know your priorities for your birth and any preferences or religious considerations they should know early.
If you choose to work with a doula, it’s never too early to hire one once you conceive. That gives you plenty of time to introduce them to your delivery team, share your concerns about labor and delivery, and give your doula and opportunity to develop pain and stress relieving techniques that are just right for you.