When I had my first two children, I had never even heard the word “doula.” My second birth was precipitous (less than three hours). I had planned to have an epidural as I did for my first delivery, but the second time, I wasn’t able to have any pain relief.
My labor was so quick that my OB barely made it to catch my baby! Since my husband and I weren’t prepared to cope through labor and delivery in this way, the experience was incredibly scary for us.
As I was recovering from giving birth, I started wondering how we could have been better prepared and supported throughout the process. Through my research, I found that’s exactly where a doula comes in. I became very inspired to educate and empower families so that they could feel prepared for their births – instead of being scared and unsure as my husband and I had been.
I’ve had the great honor of attending over 20 births, both as a birth doula and birth photographer. Each delivery looked very different, but the goal was the same: a healthy baby and an empowered mother who felt supported throughout this life-changing journey. My own traumatic experience led me to a career where I could help other families have more positive birth experiences.
Doulas and midwives
One of the most common questions doulas get is if they are the same as midwives. While doulas and midwives often work together, they provide very different types of assistance.
Midwives are medical professionals who provide care to women. They are trained to deliver babies, as well as provide prenatal and postpartum care. Midwives can have their own practice or work at birthing centers or hospitals.
Doulas – even certified ones – are not medical professionals. Doula certification requirements vary depending on the certifying body; however, to receive a certification, a doula typically has to take evidence-based courses, pass tests, and attend a certain number of births.
Doulas provide continuous physical, emotional, and educational support to women and their families throughout pregnancy and childbirth, but they do not provide medical advice or care. Postpartum doulas help you recover while providing lactation support and assistance with your newborn if needed.
Typically, you will meet with your doula a few times during your pregnancy. They may discuss your options, help you create a birth plan, and show you comfort measures to use during labor. They provide informational support and education on labor, birth, breastfeeding, and the postpartum period.
Your doula will help both you and your birth partner work through any fears that you may be feeling. They may also attend birthing classes with you and can provide you with educational resources in your area.
Should I hire a doula?
When the big day comes, you are your doula’s sole interest and responsibility. They provide continuous support for women during childbirth and stay for a few hours postpartum to help with the first feedings whether breast or bottle.
Doulas provide constant physical support during labor. This may be in the form of massage, acupressure, positioning, water therapy, reminding you to take care of your needs, and helping to create a calming and soothing birth space.
They will also provide emotional support. This may include affirmations, encouragement, working through fears, and talking through the birth postpartum.
They can encourage both you and your partner to advocate for yourselves and gently remind you of your birth plan should the need arise. They offer unwavering support and encouragement while you welcome your little one into the world.
Studies have shown that having a doula can decrease the length of labor, lower the need for pain medication, and provide better outcomes for both mother and baby.
Is this just for “natural” births?
I have supported women in all types of birth scenarios: medication-free births in birth centers, planned cesarean births, planned inductions, those who knew they wanted pain medication, those who weren’t sure if they did, those with and without birth partners, and more. My goal as a doula is to help all my clients feel empowered to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
Hiring a doula
There are many databases you can use to search for a doula in your area (e.g., DONA International’s database). You can also ask your OB or midwife if they have recommendations for locally based doulas.
Interviewing a few can help you find the one with whom you most connect. They will be there with you for a very personal experience, so make sure that your personalities and values mesh well. Being prepared with a list of questions is also very helpful. Questions to consider asking are
- What are your fees?
- What do your doula care services include?
- What is your training? (Ask about breastfeeding credentials if you are hoping to breastfeed.)
- What is your philosophy about birth?
- Do you have a backup?
I have a birth partner. Why would I need doula support?
Your partner may need support too! Even if they have been to a birth previously, they may not have the knowledge that a doula can provide.
A birth partner is often a spouse, friend, or family member. While your doula wants the best for you and your birth, they are not emotionally invested in the process in the same way that your birth partner might be.
They can therefore step in when your birth partner is tired and needs a break, remind you both of your wishes when decision-making comes into play, and help you both understand what is going on when medical lingo feels overwhelming.
Your doula will not take away from the connection between you and your birth partner, and they can actually help foster it. They will be the constant throughout this journey, providing support, education, and encouragement for you both.
Bringing your baby into the world can be exciting, terrifying, and life-changing. A doula can help you navigate this amazing journey with confidence. No matter how your baby arrives, remember that you are strong and brave – and the perfect mama for your little one.
In the midst of COVID-19, many hospitals and birth centers have placed limits on the number of support people allowed for each birthing person. Make sure to contact your specific birth place and doctor or midwife to see if any guidelines have changed.
Here are some tips to navigate this time:
- Talk through different scenarios beforehand and ask your doula what options may be available if they’re not able to offer in-person support. Many are offering prenatal and postnatal visits virtually through Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts.
- Ask about back-up support should they be unable to support you during your birth.
- You can receive support while you’re in early labor at home (as approved by your care provider) even if they’re unable to come to your birth place due to restrictions on the number of support people allowed.
Remember: Your doula is a great source of support for you during this time, and their care can make a huge difference!