Thursday, October 24, 2013

What is a Doula? Doula FAQs Part 1

  1. What is a doula?
  2. What are the advantages of hiring a doula?
  3. What does a doula actually DO during a birth?
  4. Will having a doula take away from my partner’s role in the birth?
  5. Is a doula the same as a midwife?
  6. My doctor wants me to do x, but I want to do y. What do YOU think I should do?

1.     What is a doula?

A doula is a trained birth professional who provides continuous support to a woman throughout her labor and birth.

Photo credit: Peggy Loftis of Cherished Motherhood
Your doula gets to know you and your family prenatally to understand your birth preferences, and provide you with information as needed. After the birth, she makes several postpartum visits as needed to assist with breastfeeding and baby care basics. Mothers report that this continuum of care helps them feel so supported during this important life transition!

2.     What are the advantages of hiring a doula?

Numerous studies have reported the many benefits of having a doula, including:

  •     Reduced rates of all sorts of interventions, including Pitocin use (a drug used for labor induction/augmentation), epidural use, and Cesarean section
  •     Shorter labors and fewer complications
  •     Healthier babies and mothers
  •    Increased breastfeeding success
  •     Increased sense of satisfaction about the birth

My goal as a doula is for all mothers to begin motherhood feeling confident in themselves and satisfied that they made the best choices possible during their labor and birth. This is possible whether a woman has a natural homebirth, a planned Cesarean, or anything in between. 

Major factors in a woman’s feelings include how respected she felt during the birth, and the extent to which she felt she was involved in the decision-making—taking an active role rather than having things “done” to her. A doula can definitely help with this!

3.     What does a doula actually DO during a birth?

Doulas provide three basic types of support to the laboring mother (and her partner/family): physical, emotional, and informational. What that support actually looks like will be different for each mother and at each birth! But here are a few ways that a doula might support you:

    Physical Support

  • Creating a calm environment with lighting, music, and aromatherapy
  • Giving awesome foot massages during early labor to encourage relaxation
  • Using specialized massage and counter-pressure techniques to ease the sensations of active labor
  • Showing your partner how to support you using touch and massage
  • Suggesting position changes to speed labor, alleviate pain, and help baby find the position for birth
  • Drawing a bath that is just the right temperature
  • Refilling mom’s water cup; bringing dad a sandwich…and so much more!

    Emotional Support

  • Prenatally, helping you talk through your feelings to determine if your childbirth goals and actions are aligned
  • Offering you and your partner calm encouragement, reassurance and support
  • Reminding you that you CAN do it (and you ARE doing it!)
  • Providing compassionate and nonjudgmental support if your birth plan changes or unexpected situations arise
  • Assuring your partner (or mother or best friend) that “yes,” this is normal!

    Informational Support

  • Offering you the latest research about evidence-based practices when you are asked to make a decision
  • Helping you communicate with your care provider and nurses
  • Reminding you that it’s okay to ask questions about the benefits, risks, and alternatives before making a decision about a procedure

Is a doula still useful if a mother chooses an epidural, births by Cesarean, or is planning a homebirth? Absolutely! More on that below.

4.     Will having a doula take away from my partner’s role in the birth?

On the contrary! Part of the doula’s role is to enhance the bond between you and your partner and support both of you during this amazing and intense time. That can mean helping your partner learn some of the massage and counter-pressure techniques, showing him or her how to physically hold and support you in different positions, making recommendations about supportive language to use with a laboring mother, and more. It may even mean stepping out of the room to give you some private time together!

Studies show that women who hire a doula report greater satisfaction with their partners in the postpartum period, and partners report feeling more confident about their abilities to help during the birth. Birth is often a long and sometimes scary process for the partner, and it can be really nice to have a calm and reassuring presence with you!

5.     Is a doula the same as a midwife?

Nope! A midwife is a health care professional who provides medical care to women from conception through birth. She is qualified to deliver babies and do basically everything a doctor would, with the exception of deliver a baby by Cesarean.

Doulas do not provide medical care, give medical advice, or perform medical procedures. We provide physical, emotional, and informational support to a laboring woman and her family (see above).

6.      My doctor or midwife wants me to do x, but I want to do y. What do  
          YOU think I should do?

Good question—but unfortunately one that your doula can’t answer! Doulas do not provide medical advice or recommend medical courses of action. What your doula CAN do is:

  • Research a particular condition or procedure, and provide you with the latest information about it. However, it is up to you and your care provider to determine what is best for you in your unique situation.
  • Talk with you to help you uncover your own feelings, fears, and intuitions about a given situation to help you gain clarity.
  • Help you articulate your childbirth goals and evaluate whether your not your actions align with those goals. If they do not, your doula can help you come up with more realistic goals, or suggest that you consider different actions. For this particular question, an action might be to interview other care providers to see if their philosophy is more in line with yours.