What Is A Doula?
A doula is an individual who understands the birth process and supports others as they make their own transition into parenthood. They usually meet with the expecting parent(s) during pregnancy, answering any questions that may arise, and helping them to prepare for labor and birth. Doulas also often provide postpartum support after the birth. A doula does not replace the father or partner, but rather allows the birthing parent’s primary support person to be completely involved in the labor and birth.
During birth, a childbirth or labor doula will stay by the laboring person’s side offering reassurance and continuous support for both the birthing parent and their support partner that may be present. The childbirth doula will help the parent(s) get the information needed to make informed decisions regarding their care and help them communicate those decisions to their care providers. She will do everything she can to make the woman more comfortable both physically and emotionally, assisting the mother to ensure she has the birth she desires. Some childbirth doulas also offer assistance with breastfeeding after birth if the mother so desires, aiding the mother in bonding with her newborn(s), and often stay with the mother for up to a few hours after birth. Doulas recognize childbirth as an important event in a woman’s life, an experience she will always cherish.
A postpartum doula helps the mother with the transition and adjustment that comes with having a new addition to the family and the new (or recurring) role of motherhood. Postpartum services include instruction in newborn care, assistance with breastfeeding, and helping the new family with needs around the home.
There are many advantages to receiving this kind of care. In recent years, scientists have been attempting to understand and measure these benefits. Ten randomized studies* involving nearly 4000 first-time mothers demonstrated that the presence of a doula results in:
- 45% decrease in Cesarean sections
- 25% decrease in length of labor
- 34% decrease in use of forceps
- 50% decrease in use of synthetic oxytocin
- 60% decrease in use of epidurals
- 31% decrease in use of pain medications
Doulas not only improve the birth experience, but also contribute to long term benefits such as:
- Improved breastfeeding
- Decreased postpartum depression
- Greater maternal satisfaction following her birth experience
- Better mother-infant interaction
Each doula offers different services and may have received training from one of several different organizations.
*Compiled from The Doula Book by M.H. Klaus, J.H. Kennell, & P.H. Klaus, Perseus Publishing, 2002