• Rose Macomber

What Is a Doula and Why Do I Need One?

So you've heard doula mentioned by your trendy friends, on the news, or maybe even by your health care professional; but what is a doula, exactly? The word doula comes from the Greek word, which literally translates to "a woman who serves". Today, we use the word doula to describe someone who supports a birthing person throughout their pregnancy, birth, and into their postpartum period.

I know, I know, you might be thinking: "But isn't that what my partner is for?" or "My mom is a mother of 4 kids, why would I need a doula when I have her?" Let's be clear about one thing: a doula is not someone to replace your existing support system. We are here for you and your partner or other support people.

To better understand what a doula is, let's first talk about what a doula is not. A doula is NOT a medical professional, a psychologist, or a mental health professional. We don't perform medical tasks such as checking your cervix, taking blood pressure, or recommending prescription or over-the-counter medications. We aren't here to contradict your medical professional's advice.

The job of a doula can be molded and shaped to fit the needs of each person and their family, but here are some of the typical job duties you can expect if you decide to hire a doula:

  • Emotional support of your birthing choices

  • Educating families on normal childbirth processes

  • Teaching comfort measures for childbirth

  • Encouragement and positive affirmations

  • Advocating for you and your family

  • Communication with medical care providers and you, the client

Emotional support of your birthing choices:

Many people might hear doula and think of funny portrayals in media, including ultra-new-age stereotypes in movies such as Baby Mama. While doulas might like to encourage a natural physiological birth, it is not our job to tell you how to birth. There are a variety of reasons a person might choose, or her medical professional might recommend, different types of birth and interventions. We are not here to judge whichever methods work best for you, we are here to support you unconditionally.

Educating families on normal childbirth processes:

Part of having the support of a doula is having someone to help you understand what to expect throughout your pregnancy, labor, and birth. When you leave your doctor's office feeling both overwhelmed with information and slighted on time, having a doula can help you to sort through information your doctor may have quickly thrown at you in your appointment and answer the questions you didn't get to ask. There's no doubt that some doctors are amazing at giving each patient the time they need and don't rush them through their prenatal appointments, but the reality is that many times, an expecting parent can leave these appointments more confused than when they entered them.

A doula can also be a great resource to check in with if you're not sure about something happening during your pregnancy. Like we said before, a doula can't give medical advice, but we can help you figure out if you should contact your doctor and what questions you might want to ask. A doula can also help you to know what to expect when you go into labor, how to tell that you are in labor, and when you should head to your hospital or birthing place. They'll also keep you informed on what to expect once you get to the hospital, your choices on interventions once you arrive, and the benefits or risks of each.

Teaching comfort measures for childbirth

So you've made it to the hospital and thanks to all the help from your doula, you know what to expect. So your doula's job is done, right? Wrong. The hospital is where doulas can really shine and make a positive impact on your experience. Regardless of how you decide to give birth, a doula can help. Doulas are expertly trained in several techniques to help make your pain more manageable during labor by relaxing your body and mind, and getting baby in the optimal position. Some of the most common techniques they might use are laboring and pushing positions, relaxation techniques, touch techniques, vocalization, hot/cold comfort measures, and water.

If you're concerned that your partner won't have as much of an active role in your labor and birth with a doula, think again. We can coach your partner through the most effective ways to support you with the techniques listed above, and help them to become a very active participant in your experience.

Encouragement and Positive Affirmations

If you've been pregnant before, you might recall all of the unsolicited advice from strangers and family alike, struggling with disapproval over what you and your partner decided was best for you and your baby, or feeling like no one quite understood everything you were going through. While friends and family can also be encouraging, having a doula can help with putting those negative thoughts and feelings at bay. While we can give feedback, we are absolutely not here to judge. Remember, we are here to support YOU in whatever way you need it, in any choices that you make.

You might need this encouragement throughout your pregnancy, but you will definitely need it during your birth. Whether you've decided to give birth vaginally or via c-section, with medications and interventions or without, birth is hard. Having a doula during these hard moments to give extra encouragement and affirmations can make the world of difference in how you feel about your ability to get through the birth.

Advocating for you and your family

As we mentioned above, you may have friends or family that disapprove of some of your choices. You may also have doctors and other healthcare professionals pushing for interventions that you know you don't want or need. A doula can help you work out how to deal with these tough situations, advocate for yourself, and reinforce your voice when needed. We aren't here to make medical choices on your behalf, but once you make an informed decision, we are here to help your voice be heard.

Communication with medical care providers and you, the client

Similar to advocating for you and your family, a doula can be the middle man when communicating with medical care providers if that's what you choose. You may decide on a birth plan you hope to pursue, and your doula can make sure everyone at your birthing place is aware of your wishes. Similarly, if there is a medical reason to use an intervention that you previously hadn't planned on, your doula can talk you through the decision and answer any questions that might arise. Part of our job is ensuring that communication between you and the medical staff goes as smoothly as possible.

If you've gotten this far and you're still wondering WHY you need a doula, here are my final arguments:

4 Benefits of Having the Continuous Support of a Doula:

  1. Doulas lessen your chance of unwanted C-Section

  2. Doulas decrease pain in childbirth

  3. Doulas lessen the duration of labor

  4. Doulas help women feel better about their birth.

Your birth experience stays with you for the rest of your life. If you haven't yet had any children, ask a woman who has. She will likely be able to tell you very specific details about her birth, even decades later. Not only this, but you will remember how you felt during your labor and birth, which can have an impact equally as long. Did you feel empowered, strong, capable? Or helpless, stuck, and vulnerable? Make your birth experience one to remember positively, and hire a doula today!

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