What is a Doula?
Ok, I know many of you are wondering, what in the world IS a doula ANYWAY?
As a doula, typically the first question I am asked, after telling someone “I am a doula”, is the inevitable question, “OH, you deliver babies?” Or, “Oh, cool, you’re a midwife!”, and my answer is nope, not a midwife, don’t make a habit of catching babies, either…unless they are my OWN.
So, if a doula does not deliver babies, and she isn’t a midwife, then what in the world DOES she do, and why should I spend a dime for her services, you wonder???
Doulas and midwives DO have a lot in common. Both strive to support childbearing women, partners and families throughout pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and after the birth. They both support families with access to resources, knowledge & the respect needed to achieve the pregnancy, birth and newborn days of their desire.
The term Midwife, literally means to be “with woman”, and has come to refer to a primary healthcare professional for women and newborns in the childbearing year. Midwives support with holistic care, using traditional skills and modern medical techniques to monitor and safeguard the normal pregnancy and birth. It is the midwives job to assess, diagnose and treat the condition of mother and baby, and the primary focus is on a safe birth.
Doula is a Greek word, which means, “woman who serves”. A doula is a support person, a birth professional which assists a mother, her partner and family, in ADDITION to a qualified medical professional, be it Obstetrician or Midwife. Doulas are specially trained to support the laboring woman AND her partner in having the safe, satisfying birth experience they desire. Doulas are experienced in childbirth and postpartum and although they are knowledgeable, they do not perform clinical tasks, such as vaginal exams, fetal heart rate, or blood pressure monitoring. Doulas are there to serve before, during and after the birth.
Doulas often are with a woman and her partner from before active labor, on through to after they have settled in with their new baby, and all the birthing hustle and bustle has mellowed out. Although doulas are not primarily responsible for the mothers and babies health and wellbeing, the doulas presence at birth has a documented proof that women receiving continuous support are more likely than those who did not to: experience shorter labors and to give birth spontaneously (without use of forceps, vacuum extractor or cesarean). Additionally, women with a doula tend to have more positive birth satisfaction and to be less likely to experience postpartum depression. (1)
The doula not only supports the laboring woman, but she is there to support the laboring couple. Depending on the level of desired involvement in the birth process the partner may have, the doula is there to help that desire be reached. Sometimes Dad’s need to take a quick break to recharge, eat and take a breather before going back in to support the mother. This is a great example of when the doula’s presence becomes obvious, she can be with Mom, to allow Dad to take a break. One aspect not taken into consideration by expectant couples is the emotional response both Mother and partner may undergo in the throes of childbirth. The doulas calm reassuring mood alone can help normalize Dads concerns, as he will realize, “hey if Doula is calm, everything must be good”.
So, a Doula may have a lot in common with a midwife, similar beliefs and core values about birth, but in the end, each has a very different but vitally important role in the life of the expectant family.