While women may choose to birth with a variety of attendants from nurses and obstetricians, to family and close friends, to midwives or a small group of experienced women, or even in solitary as freebirthers across the world do, there is one figure who rarely gets the credit she deserves. She is the doula, a supportive sister to an expectant mother. Doulas are also called labor attendants and birth coaches, but they are so much more than that. Doulas are able to make birth safer and more comfortable for mother and baby, and the small fee that they charge is well worth it for the benefits.
The role of the doula greatly depends on the woman for whom she is providing care, but her main purpose is simply to be a friend, a mentor, and a helper to the mother. She does this by listening to her desires, helping her have a comfortable pregnancy, helping her to create the plan for the birth she desires, providing factual and unbiased information to enable her to make choices she can feel good about, keeping her comfortable during the birth while doing all she can to ensure the birth outcome the mother wants, advocating on her behalf and ensuring that caregivers respect her wishes, and even providing lactation counseling after birth to help establish a breastfeeding relationship. She has no agenda, for she has nothing to gain by convincing the mother to make certain choices.
Women who employ a trained doula are 50% less likely to have a cesarean. They typically have a 25% shorter labor. There is a 60% decrease in the number of women who request an epidural, a 40% decrease in her chances of receiving oxytocin, and a 30% reduction in analgesia use. The risk of having a forceps delivery is lessened by 40%. Doulas can make a woman feel more empowered and prepared to make good choices during their delivery, and they even can provide support for the expectant fathers and help the fathers play a bigger role in the birth.
Six weeks after birth, mothers who were attended by doulas were less anxious and depressed. They had more confidence with the baby. They were more satisfied with their partners (71% vs 30%) and more likely to be breastfeeding (52% vs 29%). These benefits are only increased by having a postpartum doula on hand to support you after the baby is done by helping you recover, teaching you to care for your newborn, and most importantly helping you get the hang of breastfeeding.
Doulas may be certified or uncertified. A doula receives her education mainly by reading, researching, and reflecting and through hands-on experience. There are many organizations who train doulas, and each program has different requirements. Some require 2-3 day workshops while others are online programs where a person is expected to study and then take an open-book test. Many doulas chose not to take that route and learn from expanding their minds and putting their knowledge to good work. While the word ‘certified’ does have a tendancy to make one seem more trustworthy and qualified, keep in mind that certification does not make a good doula. Anyone has the capacity to be a doula if they can listen and support someone.
Hiring a doula can increase your chances of a good outcome and benefit you in a number of ways. Even if you cannot afford to hire a doula, you may be able to find one who will attend you for free. Usually these women are in the process of certification but are still more than able to provide strong, caring support. If you opt not to hire a doula, you can still take a much more active role in the journey by training yourself in the same way most doulas do: reading, researching, and reflecting.
Janelle Durham, “Proven Benefits of Doula Care.” Transition To Parenthood. URL: www.transitiontoparenthood.com/ttp/Doula/doulahome.htm