What is a birth doula?
Before we can address the value of a birth doula, we have to define what a doula is. According to DONA International a birth doula is a “trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.” A lot of people confuse the roles of a midwife and doula. Although both are trained birth professionals they are vastly different. Which leads us into the next section…
What does a birth doula do?
Doulas work with their clients extensively during their pregnancy, preparing them for labor and delivery along with the postpartum period. They are a hub for other birth professionals (ie. chiropractic care, prenatal massage, prenatal yoga, maternal mental health professionals, etc.) and can direct their client to other avenues of pregnancy related resources. They give information, exercises to practice, techniques to use, and support to call on any time their client might need it. Doulas accompany the birthing person (and their partner/support person) in labor to help ensure a safe and satisfying birth experience. They draw on their professional training, knowledge and experience to provide emotional support, physical comfort and, as needed, communication with the staff to make sure that you have the information you need to make informed decisions as they arise. They provide reassurance and perspective to the womxn (and their partner), make suggestions for labor progress, and help with relaxation, massage, positioning and other techniques for comfort. A doula works for the birthing person, not the hospital or caregiver. This is an important indication because so many of the issues that arise in western style birth practices happen because the staff that is assigned to the birthing person is working for the hospital/birth site and has their own policies, procedures and agendas. When a person hires a doula, that doula’s priority is the wishes of their client.
How does having a doula affect things?
During labor the body is going through a huge number of changes. The cervix is opening, ripening, and thinning. The uterus is contracting. The baby is lowering down into the pelvis and TONS of hormones are being made. One thing that can really hurt a laboring mama’s progress is stress hormones. They can slow or even stall labor. Because of this it is a doula’s duty to keep the laboring woman as comfortable as possible so her body will be releasing the happy hormones (oxytocin) rather than the stress hormones (cortisol). The doula will suggest any number of things to keep the good hormones flowing. Some things may be: having music playing in the background to keep you focused and grounded, slow dancing with your partner, kissing your partner, massage or touch of your choosing, aromatherapy, accupressure, and even sex (yes, I said it). All of these things will help keep labor progressing and keep the mama-to-be happy and calm. The most basic outcome for all births is a vaginal delivery (the doula will help you write your wishes for all other birth options into a birth plan), however, doulas are also a great support for women planning a scheduled cesarean as well. Because of all the aforementioned suggestions, and many others, the likelihood of a cesarean dramatically decreases when a doula is present (decreases 32.2% according to DONA.org). From there, all of the other options of the birthing person’s labor/delivery are more likely to happen as well for a few reasons. First being that they have one more person on their team. A doula can advocate for a woman’s wishes during labor. Prenatally the doula and the client will go over, in detail, her birth plan. Secondly, having a doula will help impart information and resources that may not have been accessed if not for the doula (ie. webster certified chiropractic care, prenatal massage, prenatal yoga, perinatal psychiatry, etc). Having a doula will also decrease the likelihood of having to use any interventions. See the flowchart above.
Photo taken from evidencebasedbirth.com, for illustrative purposes only.
There are many reasons people choose to use a doula. Yours might be different than the next person’s and every reason is valid. If you want more information on doulas here are two very informative websites:
Written by: Coral Dowsland
Coral is one of the CNY Doula Connection's amazing birth doulas! Meet Coral by contacting the office to arrange a free consultation!