What is a doula and how can one help before and after birth?

doula
 If you’ve ever thought it would be great to have someone talking you through every step of childbirth, a doula might be for you. A trained birthing coach and labor companion, a doula assists mothers in preparing for labor and delivery, while also offering encouragement and emotional support. More and more mothers are hiring doulas as additional professional support in their birth team. But what exactly does a doula do, and should you hire one?

What is a doula?

A doula is a trained professional who supports mothers during labor and birth. They provide continuous, one-on-one care, as well as information, physical support, and emotional support. They are not medically trained, and though there is no legal training required to be a doula, most have completed certification programs. These typically entail 30 hours of classes and attending at least two to five births.

So what does a doula do?

A doula will be by your side throughout the labor and delivery process. She is there to talk you through it all, coach you in breathing, and offer advice and encouraging words. She can give physical support, like holding your hand or massaging you during labor. Most women recruit the help of a doula during month seven of their pregnancy. At that point, the doula can help prepare them for certain processes and procedures by letting them know what to expect. During the birth, a doula also can act as a liaison between you and your doctor/medical staff. She can relay messages to family, and help to control who comes in and out of your room. Think of her like a wedding coordinator, but for your birth.

“At the heart of all doula work is advocacy for a mother,” says Meghan Ratliff, a postpartum doula. “Whether a mother is birthing her baby or feeding and caring for her baby, a doula advocates for and supports her. It’s like having your own personal on-call assistant. Their one job is to support you and your birth. Since they don’t answer to a doctor or the hospital, your interest is their number-one priority.”

Doulas can assist postpartum with breastfeeding support, since many also are trained lactation consultants. She can also offer information on bathing, sleep training, and soothing your child. Emotional support can especially be helpful during this time if a woman is experiencing postpartum depression.

What are the benefits of hiring a doula?

In addition to having an advocate during an emotionally taxing time, there are proven medical benefits to having a doula. Women who used doulas had less anxiety, were more likely to have a positive view of their birth experience, and experienced shorter labor. It’s also proven that there’s less medical intervention when a doula is involved. A series of studies released in 2017 by Cochrane Review found that women who had continuous support during labor were less likely to use pain medications or have cesarean deliveries than women who didn’t have such support. It also found they were more likely to have shorter labors and vaginal births without instruments.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed doula work?

With restrictions on hospital visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some mothers might not be able to have their doulas physically in the L&D room with them. Instead, doulas can offer support leading up to the big day or can be present virtually during the birth. Some sessions pre- and postpartum might also be virtual, depending on you and your doula’s comfort level.

“As far as postpartum work goes, I can still virtually do lactation/breastfeeding consults and check on a mother’s healing and wellbeing,” Ratliff says. “Virtually I’m able to instruct a mother and/or her partner in things like how to do vaginal steams, use a breast pump, and different holds or ways to comfort their newborn.”

So, should you hire a doula?

Only you know your needs and preferences when it comes to support and your birth setting. It’s important to think about the type of birth you’re wanting to have. If you’re planning a natural birth, having someone to coach you through it that’s not your OB-GYN might be beneficial. If you’re worried about being overrun by visitors or standing up for yourself, a doula can do that. Discuss plans of hiring a doula with your partner and ensure they are on board, as well. Expenses can vary depending on the length of time you hire a doula. If you decide a doula is for you, DONA International is a great resource and can help you find a doula near you.

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