To understand what doulas are, it’s helpful to recognize what they’re not. Doulas are not medical practitioners. They do not offer diagnoses or conduct exams or tests. They also do not make decisions for expectant mothers or take the place of labor partners during childbirth. Birth doulas are specialists in labor support who educate, empower and comfort women during labor and delivery according to the birth plan and birthing experience their clients choose, be it a cesarean section or natural birth.
Finding the Right Fit
Many doulas are birth doulas—their job is to help women during childbirth. Other doulas, however, focus on supporting women before childbirth, especially those with high-risk pregnancies, or during the postpartum period. Women often meet with their birth doula well in advance of their due dates to get acquainted, ask questions about labor and delivery and create a birth plan.
When searching for and interviewing a doula, be sure to inquire about their training, fees, birthing philosophy, willingness to meet with you throughout your pregnancy and availability on or around your due date. Doulas can receive certification from various sources, including DONA International, the world’s oldest and largest doula certifying organization.
During Childbirth, Doulas Wear Many Hats
When the big day arrives, doulas take an extremely active role in the labor and delivery room. Nearly always by expectant mothers’ sides, doulas may serve as liaisons to help healthcare professionals better understand their clients’ wishes. During labor, doulas also offer emotional encouragement, coach women through breathing and relaxation exercises, advise about positioning, fetch needed items, such as hot or cold packs, and keep women and their labor partners informed about the progress of labor and what to expect.
A Bundle of Benefits
Several studies have found that mothers and babies reap a variety of benefits from working with a doula. One study in The Journal of Perinatal Education found that women who used a doula were two times less likely to experience a birthing complication involving themselves or their baby and four times less likely to have a low-birth-weight baby. Use of a doula can also reduce an expectant mother’s chances of needing a cesarean delivery or needing pain medication, and more likely to deem their childbirth experience positive, according to DONA International.
Doulas aren’t just helpful to women in labor—they also benefit labor partners. Doulas can offer advice on how best to support women in childbirth or assist with coaching duties so labor partners can more freely focus on savoring one of life’s most unforgettable occasions.