What Is a Doula?
Doula comes from the Greek, meaning “woman’s servant.” A doula is a paid, trained labor support assistant who helps a woman physically and emotionally to have a successful birth. Statistics show that having a doula to accompany and comfort you at your labor can make your experience infinitely more positive. Having a doula by your side can make your labor shorter and easier; and the use of epidurals and analgesics for pain is dramatically reduced. In fact, compared to women who have standard hospital deliveries, those who hire doulas have half the chance of undergoing a cesarean section; experience less forceps deliveries; and have labors that are reduced in length by a quarter. Doulas fall into two general categories: birth doulas and postpartum doulas.
A birth doula will meet with you before your due date and discuss the plans for your birth. Most doulas advocate birth plans and will help you create a plan that fits your wants and needs. As soon as you start labor, you will contact the birth doula. Emotional and physical support during labor will include reassurance and coping techniques as well as massage and aromatherapy. A doula birth is a happy birth.
In today’s culture, emphasis is placed more on prenatal care and support than on that important postpartum period in which the mother learns her craft. Sent home from the hospital, the mother is plunged into the task of caring for her newborn, a commission that may seem daunting for the already exhausted mother. Add to this an already-full roster of cleaning tasks and friends and family to meet, and it’s no wonder so many women face postpartum depression. A postpartum doula will help parents ease into their new roles. She will provide aid in the difficult job of breastfeeding as well as help around the house during the weeks following birth. It’s been shown that postpartum care is integral in increasing the success of breastfeeding, an important health benefit for mother and child.
Each doula enters a training program that instructs them in birth and postpartum care. Most midwifery schools have a doula program, and many midwifery schools will even ask their students to get doula certification before becoming a midwife. The Doulas of North America certification program is evidence based; that means they train doulas in techniques that have been documented to improve the standards of childbirth and postpartum care. To qualify for doula certification, the trainees attend childbirth workshops and must provide labor and postpartum support to at least three women.
The Changing Role of Men in Labor
The days of handing out cigars in the waiting room are over for dads. Men are now an active component of the birth, helping the wife with breathing techniques and providing comfort and reassurance. Is the role of the doula then taking over dad’s position in the delivery room? No. Instead, the doula helps guide the father in caring for his partner. A doula will either comfort the mother while the father admits his partner to the hospital, or vice versa. This division and sharing of tasks allows for more attention to be focused on the woman in labor. A doula is there to help each partner in their task.
How Do I Find a Doula?
To find a woman with doula certification, visit the DONA (Doulas of North America) organization website to find a doula near you.
Questions to Ask Your Doula
- What is your philosophy concerning birth and the woman’s role in childbirth?
- What will happen during labor?
- How many women have you assisted? Would it be possible to speak with these mothers or could they provide you with a reference?
- What are your credentials? What courses did you take? Do you have certification?
- What are the fees you charge?
- What if we don’t call you in time for the labor, will some of our payments be refunded?
- What if you are unavailable during our labor, do you have a back up? May we meet with her?
Feel free to contact several doulas and choose the doula you feel most comfortable with.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD