What is a Doula?
Doula: a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth. From Greek doulē, female helper. First Known Use: 1981 Merriam-Webster.com.
Doulas are a fairly modern invention, filling the position an experienced family member or friend would have in earlier times by providing support to the laboring woman and her family during birth.
The basics to expect from hiring a doula:
- assistance with a birth plan
- comfort techniques during the labor process
- advocacy for your birth wishes
- non-judging support for your wishes
- basic assistance immediately after the birth
In addition some doulas provide prenatal services like yoga or massage and are available for services after the birth such as postpartum doula services, breastfeeding counseling or lactation consultation and placenta encapsulation.
Do Doulas only attend natural births/home births?
Doulas are professionally trained to assist all varieties of births. Doulas become doulas to support mothers regardless of home, hospital, midwife, OB, natural, epidural or cesarean birth. Doulas do report they are more in demand for hospital rather than home births but the ones I know love supporting all of the above.
Do I need a doula?
All birthing mothers need support. It is a very personal decision what that support will look like. Discuss with your partner what kind of birth team is right for you. Continuous labor support can be exhausting for a partner. If it is your first child together, a partner may not know what to expect. A doula removes some of the guess work by providing breaks for your partner which can enable them to be more present. Doulas also know what birth looks and feels like which can be very reassuring for both parents and other family members.
What does a doula DO during the birth?
Every doula is different and brings varied levels of experience and tools with them but across the board, here are the basics:
- keeping mom hydrated (and dad too on occasion)
- putting on that music you requested
- reminding nurses or family members you requested: quiet, low intervention, spontaneous pushing, etc.
- cool wash cloths when the work gets tough
- hot wash cloths when the pushing begins
- essential oils for all occasions
- reminding you “YOU CAN DO IT” when you forget
- suggesting positions and comfort measures for all phases and stages
- assisting partners with being the support person they want to be
- letting dads/partners take a nap or snack or bathroom break if they need it
- reminding others to “please be quiet” when you’re in the middle of a contraction
… and this was the short list!
What is the difference between a doula and a midwife?
A doula is a trained labor support person, a midwife is a medical professional.
Midwives usually bring an assistant, however, neither of these professionals are there to provide labor support. They are responsible for the safe passage of mother and baby with fetal heart rate monitoring, charting and delivery assistance. Back rubs usually aren’t on the menu but if you or your baby need medical support they’re on top of it.
Doulas support wherever it’s needed from massage and snacks to laundry and walking the dogs. A doula will stay by the mothers side and coach her confidence through each bump in the road. A doula does not do clinical care such as vaginal exams, blood pressure checks or fetal heart tones.
Will a doula replace my partner?
No, partners will always know the mother better than the doula does, doulas just know birth better than the partner is likely to. An experienced doula will help your partner find ways to support the birth to the best of their ability and comfort level.
I have more questions….
If you have more questions don’t hesitate to contact me. I am happy to answer questions via email or phone and if I don’t have the answer I may have the resources that do!
Should I deliver at home or at a hospital?
A mother should choose to deliver where she feels safest. For some women the comfort of their own home coupled with a knowledgeable midwife is priceless. Others feel much safer in a hospital for a variety of reasons. Do some soul searching and discuss with your partner what you need to feel safe. Feeling good about your care provider and confident in your birth setting makes a tremendous difference.
Do I need a birth plan?
Yes, please. More and more care providers are really encouraged when a client has a birth plan. It means you are informed and making informed decisions. As a doula, I request one from all of my clients for clarity of communication with the hospital staff. An exception may be working with certain midwives who, being responsible for all of your prenatal care as well as present at your birth, already have a record of your wishes for the birth and baby care afterwards.
What if I poop during pushing?
Most likely no one will notice! Doulas, OBs and midwives know its all part of the job, it doesn’t bother us and it’s frequently cleaned up before mom even knows about it. Just for the record though, I see most mothers clean out their bowels sometime during early or active labor making it a non issue during pushing.
Will I tear?
Tears caused by pushing are hard to predict. Great care providers have finesse in supporting the perineum with pressure and/or warm compresses. Perineal massage prenatally can also help prevent tears. While there is no proven way to predict or prevent tears, rest assured the majority of tears heal quickly with many not requiring stitches. All perineums are a bit sensitive after birth, keep that in mind and treat yourself gently in the first few weeks postpartum.
Do I need to take a Childbirth Education class?
You need to be informed on the process and the options available to you. It is recommended to read as much as you can digest and to take an independent childbirth education class to make sure you and your birth partner are on the same page. Hospital classes tend to be short and geared towards hospital policy. Independent educators have a variety of philosophies and backgrounds but chances are, if they are certified, they are bound by their organization to present the facts and let you make your own decisions.
A childbirth education class should impart the basics of what labor looks like, what interventions look like and why they may be necessary, how to prepare a birth plan and how to prepare for life after baby. Most classes are 4 to 6 weeks, one class a week near the end of pregnancy. However, ‘crash courses’, baby care and refresher courses are out there also. Discover what it is you are wanting to learn and find a class that meets your needs.
What is labor like?
Or… what do contractions feel like? Does it hurt? The best I can offer you here is the benefit of many labor stories. They can be found in books (like Spiritual Midwifery and Guide to Childbirth by Ina May) as well as my blog and many others around the web.
However, below are analogies and information that may be helpful:
- Women experience labor differently. While we have all be proven to have the same pain threshold (the amount of stimulus at which we all say, “hey, that hurts”) we have very different pain tolerances.
- Our stress level directly influences our ability to tolerate pain.
- Labor pain is very different than a bruise or broken bone.
- Contractions become more intense rather than more painful.
- Augmented (medicated or induced) labor often comes with more intense contractions and fewer endorphins than non augmented labors.
- Labor gets intense, we want it to get intense, it’s part of how we know when to push!
- If a contraction is 45-90 seconds every 3-5 minutes think of it as, “I can do anything for a minute and a half as long as I get a break.”
- If contractions average 1 minute long and there are 12 contractions in an hour… that’s only 12 minutes out of every hour!