In simplest terms, doulas are professional birthing coaches. They provide physical and emotional assistance to women throughout the later stages of pregnancy, during childbirth and after birth. Doulas are trained to assist women in having safe and comfortable birthing experiences, visiting their moms after birth to assist them with everything from breastfeeding to cooking healthy, nutritious meals. When translated, doula literally means “servant of women”—an apt translation as doulas work to prepare women to become mothers, something they have been doing for centuries.
Long ago, a doula’s art was considered a hereditary profession. Mothers taught their daughters how to care for new moms through extensive practical training. Modern doulas undergo a similar apprenticeship, but most now earn certifications through internationally recognized institutions.
Over the course of her studies, a doula becomes an expert in pregnancy, childbirth principles, natural labor interventions and breastfeeding, as well as other common postpartum issues women experience such as postpartum mood disorders or “baby blues”. While many doulas work with a woman at all stages of pre- and post-childbirth, some doulas specialize in one or the other. Some doulas opt to specialize in pregnancy and delivery, while others focus on post-labor care. When interviewing doulas, it is important to ask what type of support she offers.
A doula works to ensure a healthy, safe and positive birth experience. By providing support to women before and after childbirth, this professional empowers her clients to experience the birth they desire. Many doulas are comfortable attending home, birth center and hospital births; however, they can provide only complimentary, non-medical support. Doulas may ease the likelihood of C-sections, and decrease certain risks during pregnancy, but they do not perform medical procedures or provide medical advice of any kind.
An experienced doula can attend any type of birth, and will fulfill a woman’s emotional and physical support requirements regardless of the type of birth she chooses. She works to decrease feelings of isolation, depression, nervousness and fear. Her continuous support assists women in maintaining positivity, confidence and strength throughout the childbirth and recovery process. As experts on pregnancy and childbirth, doulas can answer any and all questions a woman may have regarding what’s happening to her body, what’s normal, how to reduce pain during labor, and how to address issues naturally with minimal medical intervention. Doulas not only attend to a woman’s emotional well-being, but her psychological and physical needs during pregnancy, labor and recovery as well.
Doulas are trained in using natural, non-medical comfort measures to assist women such as massage before and during delivery to relax and minimize pain. Many doulas use simple equipment such as birthing balls and Rebozo scarves to support women through contractions but most importantly, a doula offers constant support through the birthing process. As professionals, doulas can also quickly recognize complications and take immediate steps to ensure a mother receives any medical interventions she may need.
Women who have partnered with doulas report that their labor time was reduced due to constant and positive support. They also report less pain due to natural techniques such as effective massage during labor. When complications arose, women shared that their doulas remained calm and positive, assisting them even through a C-section by helping them remain confident and inspiring optimism.
Many doulas extend their services beyond childbirth, and visit women in their homes. A doula may help a mother cook nutritious meals, clean the home, and generally care for the newborn, to include sharing the best ways to bathe, nurse and swaddle. Doulas are extremely beneficial in helping a mother master breastfeeding, which can be an initially frustrating experience without knowledgeable support. They also share their expertise in post-partum mood disorders and provide natural solutions. Ultimately doulas partner with mothers to provide them with as much time to bond with their newborns as possible. Therefore, they may watch siblings, do laundry and shop, all to enable to new mother time with her newborn.
A woman should consider hiring a doula for support during her pregnancy, labor and recovery if:
No disadvantages exist in hiring a doula to assist a woman throughout her pregnancy, delivery and recovery. However, insurance rarely covers a doula’s cost; and therefore, doulas become an out-of-pocket expense. If cost is an issue, doulas-in-training typically charge less, and exist as an excellent support option. Women should consider what they would gain when hiring a doula. It is also a good idea to check with hospitals and birthing centers regarding their policy of doulas; some are more welcoming then others. Also, always clearly communicate expectations when interviewing doulas to ensure that a good match can be found.
Kathryn is a baby-wearing, cloth diapering, DIY mom to her quickly growing and pretty cute toddler. When she isn't researching and writing about natural approaches to pregnancy and parenting, she's acting out her favorite children's books or singing off-key made-up songs.