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The Invaluable Role of the Doula

Should I hire a Doula?

This is a question a lot of women these days are asking, as doulas have become more of a household term (hooray!) and their services are in greater and greater demand. The number of certified birth doulas in the United States has exploded in recent years, with 2,636 practicing at the end of 2009, up from only 31 in 1994!

What is a Doula?

The word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves" and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. The doula's role is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience.

"But I have my husband/boyfriend/partner…"

The role of the doula is not to take the place of the husband or partner in labor, but to complement and enhance your experience. Having a doula allows the father or partner to support you emotionally during labor and birth and also enjoy it himself without the pressure to remember everything he learned in childbirth class!

At the hospital...

In a typical hospital setting, doctors and some midwives don't stay in the room with you continuously during labor. Labor-and-delivery nurses often have to split their time between several patients, and they come and go according to their shifts. A doula is there throughout your labor, providing constant support and encouragement.

She perceives her role as nurturing and protecting the woman's memory of the birth experience.

She uses the power of touch and massage to reduce stress and anxiety during labor. She can offer an objective viewpoint, as well as helping you get the information you need to make informed decisions. She facilitates communication between you, your partner and your clinical care providers.

Studies have shown that having a doula as part of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and the request for an epidural by 60%!

Often a cesarean is an unexpected situation and moms are left feeling unprepared, disappointed and lonely. A doula can be with the mother at all times throughout a cesarean, explaining what is going on throughout the procedure while the partner is able to attend to the baby and accompany the newborn to the nursery if problems arise.

And after...

While labor doulas attend births, postpartum doulas support new mothers at home in the first few weeks. A postpartum doula offers education, companionship and non-judgmental support during the postpartum fourth trimester. She assists with newborn care, family adjustment, meal preparation and light household tidying. She offers information on infant feeding, helps with emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents.

My experience...

I will say that for me, having a doula was beyond helpful. The fact that she was my best friend made it even more special.

I had a home birth, but my babe came early, and we were sooo not ready! While my husband was running around like a chicken, having to put up drapes, move furniture, and help the midwife fill the pool (all very comical, I might add, from the bits and pieces I remember), I walked. I walked continuous laps around my house stopping only to lean against a wall or the fireplace while my doula rubbed my back. And I got good, deep rubs that helped me make it though the wave and then we’d go back to walking. She never left my side, and we three made a great team. I can’t imagine it any other way.

You can ask your doula to do anything you can think of to help. She is there for YOU!

The best way to find a doula is through word of mouth. Ask friends and friends of friends or your midwife or doctor. Don’t know anyone? Try these resources:

*Doulas of North America (DONA). The organization has a referral locator on its website.  DONA also gives referrals over the phone at (888) 788-3662 or by e-mail.

*Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE) call (888) 222-5223 or visit the ALACE website.

*The Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) website, or call (888) 692-2772 (888-MY-CAPPA).

Email me YOUR questions, leave a comment here, or check back every Monday to see what we’re talking about next!

Xoxo Melanie


photo: cristy nielsen