Frequently Asked Questions
What is a birth doula?
A birth doula, also called a birth companion or childbirth coach, is a non-medical birth professional. They provide physical, emotional and educational support to a woman and her family through labor and the delivery of their baby. Once hired, they will often meet with an expecting family at least once prenatally to get to know the family in depth, and to discuss what to expect during the birth, as well as the family's birth preferences. They might help develop a set of birth guidelines that the family can share with anyone who will be attending the birth. Once the expecting mother gets closer to her due date, a doula will be "on call" for her 24 hours per day, and ready to attend the birth!
When the doula receives THE call, depending on the situation, she might meet the family at their home or at their birthing place (hospital, birth center). Throughout labor, a doula might provide physical comfort measures as well as assist with relaxation techniques, to relieve discomfort. She offers a calm, reassuring presence as she gives emotional support to the mother and the birth partner(s). A doula can also guide a woman through her decision making process during her labor, helping her assert her wishes, but never speaking for her.
Once the baby is born, if the mother has chosen to breastfeed, a doula can help guide the mother to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. She will often stay long enough to help the new family get settled, and will then leave the family to bond with their baby. Sometime within the first week postpartum, a doula will typically meet with a family to see how life has been with the new addition, and to go over the family's birth story and celebrate this new, precious life!
Why should I hire a doula? How is it any different from my husband/mother/sister/friend/labor nurse?
There have been many studies done in recent years about the value of doulas. These studies have unequivocally shown that doulas improve birth outcomes in a number of ways. First, families that have hired a doula have been shown to be more satisfied with their birth experience after the fact, even if things didn't go exactly how they had hoped. There was also a study done that looked at the health of the parents' relationship a few months after the birth of a child, which indicated that couples were more satisfied with their relationship if there was a doula present at the birth! Additionally, it has been shown that having a doula present reduces the use of pitocin to augment labor, and decreases the number of Cesarean births and other medical interventions during labor. If you are aiming for a medication free birth, hiring a doula might mean that you have less need for pain medications or epidurals, and can even shorten your labor!
The most important way that a doula differs from a family member or friend is that they are unrelated. Sure, it's an obvious statement, but that is the reason a doula is so effective. A doula cares about the birthing mother, but is not nearly as emotionally tied to her as a relative or close friend. It is often very difficult for someone so close to the mother to see her enduring this type of pain and discomfort. A doula provides a calm, level headed point of view that supports the whole family. She also has expertise in the process of labor and birth, which allows the family to be less concerned with remembering what to do, and lets them enjoy this very special time. A labor nurse is a fantastic resource for many things during labor. However, the nurse likely has multiple patients, and will be in and out of the labor room. Having the continuous support of a doula, as well as the doula's specific training in non-medical comfort measures, is what makes a doula's presence so powerful.
I'm not sure what types of pain relief I will want during labor. Do I need a doula if I have an epidural? Are doulas anti-epidural?
Absolutely NOT! A doula's role is to help you have the birth that you want. This is your birth. You are the one with the power, and these are your decisions! Sometimes, women want to try to have a medication-free birth but decide, for one of many reasons, that they would like an epidural or various other pain management medications. A doula will support your decision, whatever it might be.
It might seem as though a doula's role would be obsolete if a mother uses an epidural for pain relief. However, there are other ways in which a doula can support a mother in these cases. One difficulty faced by mothers who have an epidural is their inability to get out of bed and change positions. This changing of position can help open up the pelvis and help baby descend and become ready for birth. A doula can help a mother who has had an epidural find positions that will get baby into the best position for birth. She will still be there for emotional and educational support for the entire family, as well as during the postpartum period.
What if I end up needing a C-section?
Part of what makes a doula so valuable is the relationship that is formed between the doula and the family. The doula is a constant provider of knowledge, support and acceptance, which allows a woman to have her most positive birth experience. Whether the C-section is planned or unexpected, a doula can help you learn about and advocate for options that you are most comfortable with. Many hospitals are beginning to provide "family centered" cesarean births, and depending on the situation, the doula and another support person can even be in the operating room with the mother. In the event of an unexpected C-section, there may be a greater need to process the emotions surrounding this change in plan. A doula is a great tool to help families have their best birth experience, no matter what surprises are in store!