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Answering the big question: What is a doula?

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

As long as we can remember, women have been guided by other women during childbirth. This consistent presence helps ease the anxiety and fears laboring women encounter. Today, women seek the support of a birth professional often referred to as a doula whose experienced presence is highly valued, not only by the mother, but the partner and family as well. Doulas are the perfect companion but do have limitations to what their support can consist of. Research and studies have shown that women who have doulas have a more positive outcome on birth overall.

With their professional training, knowledge and experience, doulas help guide women through a safe and satisfying birth experience. Giving reassurance and perspective, making suggestions for labor progress with relaxation, soothing touch, positioning, and other techniques for the mother's comfort. For example, some women experience back labor. Their doula may draw on her experience and training to soothe this discomfort and use techniques to help baby into a better position. She may do this by having the mother move into various positions during labor that may encourage baby to turn and move into a more optimal position. Doula's may also use techniques such as counter pressure, heat and cold packs, massage, and soothing touch to ease the mother's discomfort. This emotional, physical, and informational support is valued due to the positive impact it has the birthing experience. Not only is this support important for the woman in labor, but also for the partner and care providers as well. With the doula’s knowledgeable view on birth, the nurse, doctor, or midwife caring for the health needs of mom and baby, and the partners special knowledge of the mother, this team makes the perfect support for the mother's complex needs during childbirth. The doula may guide the partner in helping comfort the mother for those who seek more involvement as well. This often looks like the doula instructing the partner where and how to apply pressure, hold the mother's leg through pushing, and using their special knowledge of the mother as help. According to Penny Simkin in the Position Paper: The Birth Doula’s Role in Modern Maternity Care, partners are often relieved when they can rely on a doula for help: they enjoy the experience more.

Doulas have many responsibilities but also have limitations to their work as well. Each doula's practice may look a little different, but all doulas should support families through the birth they desire no matter what that may look like. Doulas provide emotional, physical, and informational support only. They do not perform clinical tasks, diagnose or give medical advice. For example, they do not perform blood pressure checks, fetal monitoring, or vaginal exams. Those tasks are strictly for your care providers. The doula will not make decisions for the laboring woman, nor does she push her own views or beliefs. Doulas provide families with unbiased information necessary for informed decision making, reminds the client if there is a departure from their birth plan, discusses any concerns that the client may have, and helps them advocate for their rights.

Current research shows the various benefits of a birth doula's continuous support. Comparing births with continuous doula support to those who received routine obstetric care without a doula's presence shows statistically significant results. For women who hired a doula to be a part of their birth team, there was a decrease in the use of medical interventions including cesarean delivery. As well as improvement in length, and even helping women have shorter labor by an average of 41 minutes. Having a doula reduces the laboring woman's anxiety helping her relax and focus through each surge, even lowering the number of women who request using epidural analgesia. According to research the use of a birth doula has many benefits after birth as well like increased breastfeeding and a more positive maternal perception. Doula's help women find their confidence and become empowered to birth the way they desire.

In conclusion, a birth doula is a companion with a special view on birth. Helping families have a safe, satisfying, and memorable birth. The impact the doula has seems to improve not only obstetric outcomes, but better experiences for everyone involved. The presence of a doula is even proven to lower the rate of postpartum depression. Everyone deserves a doula.


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