While doulas are becoming more commonly used to assist with births today, there are still many people who have never heard of doulas or do not really understand what they do. On the Frequently Asked Questions page of my website, I give a brief overview of the importance of a doula and the scope of her duties. This post will elaborate further on exactly what a doula does and why it is so important to have one.
A doula is a trained labor support person. This definition is intentionally vague, because doulas offer so many different kinds of support. Every doula has different styles and techniques that she uses, and the support that she offers will vary widely depending on the needs of the laboring mother. Some common types of support offered by doulas include: massage. counter-pressure, breathing techniques, verbal encouragement, visualizations, and help with different laboring positions. The only type of support that a doula specifically cannot offer is medical support. A doula will, however, offer informational support without giving you specific medical advice.
If you are still not convinced that you need a doula, below I have listed 6 reasons why you probably do.
1. Scientific trials have shown that mothers with a doula have shorter labors, have less complications and interventions in labor, are less likely to have unwanted C-sections, and are less likely to use pain relieving drugs. Don't believe me? Check this out. There are many different reasons why doulas have such profound positive effects on birth outcomes. Having continuous support from someone who understands the birth process will help you to feel calm and confident in the midst of the unexpected. When you are relaxed, your labor progresses much more quickly. Movement and changing positions also helps to progress labor, which a doula will assist you with. When a doctor or nurse proposes an unwanted intervention, your doula is able to suggest some natural alternatives to try to resolve the issue. For those who do not wish to use pain relieving drugs, a doula can offer a variety of strategies to cope with any discomfort in labor.
2. Even if you've taken the classes, read the books, and watched the YouTube videos, nothing prepares your for the reality of labor. Take it from me, I did all of the above. My husband and I felt SO prepared, I had made myself cheat sheets and everything. But then when I hit 7cm, boy, that all flew out the window. Almost every laboring woman gets to the point where she is overwhelmed and unable to think straight, especially if it is her first birth. I remember my husband making futile efforts to help me- "Do you want me to massage you?" "DON'T TOUCH ME." "Would it help if you got up and walked around?" "I CAN'T MOVE." "Do you want to try a different position?" "I DON'T KNOW?!" ... You get the idea. It was in that moment that I really appreciated how much I needed a doula. As they were wheeling my bed into a delivery room, a nurse looked at me and said, "Sarah, look at me. You can do this. I need you to breathe with me." As she took charge and calmed me down, I thought, "Ohh, this is what I needed."
3. The nurses aren't with you as much as you think. Nurses are awesome. Many of them are literal angels who help their patients and save lives. Unfortunately, these are very busy angels. Your nurse will most likely be in and out of your room intermittently, because she/he has other patients and duties to be tended to. So, for most of your labor you will be alone with whoever you have brought with you. Additionally, you don't know what nurse will be on duty when you are in labor. You may be planning on a natural birth and get the nurse who continually asks if you want an epidural and reminds you that, "They don't give you a medal for doing it naturally." Alternatively, you may want an epidural and the nurse makes you feel like a failure for doing so. The great thing about your doula is that you have picked her out, met her multiple times before going into labor, and are confident that she knows your plan and will support you every step of the way.
4. When the unexpected happens, you have someone to help you make informed decisions. One type of support offered by doulas is informational support. Whether through formal training or years of experience, doulas understand the natural progression of labor. In my training with DONA International, we learned about the stages of labor, issues that could potentially arise during labor, the pros and cons of common drugs and medical interventions, as well as natural methods to try to resolve any problems. When you are in labor and there is an unexpected complication, you will feel so much better with your doula by your side to share her knowledge and expertise. While doulas do not give any medical advice, they will give you the information necessary for you to make an informed decision.
5. Your partner wants to be your main support person? A doula can help with that. It is not uncommon for partners to feel threatened by the idea of a doula. My husband certainly was, and as you read under reason #2, that did not go as well as one might have hoped. One of the main focuses of a doula is to enable your partner to support you as much as he/she is willing and able. This is especially true for my clients who hire me as their doula and birth photographer, because it gives me more freedom to take pictures. I am able to suggest positions where your partner supports you, direct him/her on how to massage you, and show how he/she can use counter-pressure to relieve discomfort. The experience of childbirth is an emotional roller coaster for both parents. A doula is there to support both of you, not to replace the supportive role of your partner.
6. Your doula will support you before and after birth. Most birth doulas will meet you at least once or twice before you give birth, if not more. If you have any questions or concerns about the birth process, your doula will be on call via phone, text, or email to help relieve any anxieties you may have. After birth, your doula will stay with you in the hospital for at least an hour to help you initiate breastfeeding and answer any questions you may have. She will probably also visit you in the week after you deliver to make sure things are going well and to support you in any way that she can. Whether you are a first time parent or veteran, you will feel so much more comfortable and confident with the support of your loving doula.
Are there any reasons that I forgot to mention?? Contact me and I will add it to the list!