Most women spend their whole lives preparing for and dreaming about their wedding. Starting as young girls, most of us play dress up, dream about our wedding day, watch TV shows about it, make Pinterest boards filled with ideas, and hire a wedding planner. Everything must be perfect and just the way we want. Perfect food, perfect cake, perfect location, prefect dress, and so on.
So wouldn’t it make sense that the same care and planning should be taken to prepare for one of the other biggest moments of a woman’s life: the birth of her child. I don’t mean the postpartum period such as what diapers to buy or what colors to paint the nursery, but the hours spent actually bringing your child into the world. This is where a doula comes into play. Think of your doula as the wedding planner of your birth.
During pregnancy there are so many changes happening to your body, everything from your feet growing in size to your organs being rearranged to make room for baby. You have 40 weeks, give or take a few, to prepare to bring a new human being to this planet. It can seem like time is simultaneously flying and crawling by as there are doctor visits, child birth classes, and stretch marks. A doula can help to ease some of the overwhelming feelings and chaos that can come with pregnancy. Your doula can help you to explore your hopes and fears regarding labor and parenthood as well as help to formulate a birth plan. She will discuss with you a variety of pain management options and labor positions. During this time your doula is also establishing a rapport with your family and developing a relationship of trust and comfort that is highly important in the labor and delivery room.
Labor is when a doula will truly shine. All of the preparation done prenatally will help to create a feeling of familiarity with the process and hopefully remove some of the fear. During early labor your doula will maintain communication with you, monitoring your emotions and comfort level. A good doula will allow a mother to have the space she needs to progress while also being ready to go to her when needed. During labor your doula may begin to practice some of the comfort measures discussed during pregnancy. She will also prepare for any changes of location that may occur later on, such as when to leave for the hospital, preparing the birth tub, getting the bed ready, etc. As labor progresses your doula is there to do whatever you need, which will look very different for every birth. During some births, a doula may be sitting in the corner knitting and simply watching for signs that she is needed. At other births, she might be the preferred person of comfort and be more actively involved. It is important to remember that it is not what the support looks like, but what it feels like. As long as Mom feels supported and loved and the doula is following her cues, she is doing her job. There is no specific playbook for what a doula’s role looks like in the labor and birth experience.
Many people think that if you are having a planned C-section you are “not allowed” to have a doula. Thankfully, this is not the case. As a fellow doula Katie Reitman said,
“Every woman deserves a doula, and there is a doula for every woman.”
There are lots of ways that a mother planning a c-section needs to be supported during her pregnancy and delivery. She has to prepare herself for major abdominal surgery and that can be scary to think about. During pregnancy, a doula can discuss what will happen during the surgery and what to anticipate after the birth. If you are not delivering in a baby-friendly hospital, then your birth partner and baby will go to the nursery together often leaving you alone in the operating room. Your doula will be there to sit with you during this time. Afterward, she can help to facilitate breastfeeding and will provide tips for healing after the surgery.
Now that you have had the baby, it can feel like everyone has forgotten about all the work you just did. The attention is now focused on meeting the new family member, your baby. A doula, while always excited to meet a new baby, is primarily there for the mother. She will offer suggestions immediately after birth and during the recovery period regarding your comfort and healing. She will also offer tips to help you adjust to life with your new baby. Depending on the doula and the type of contract you have with her, your doula may also offer postpartum support. If not, there are often separate postpartum doula specialists available.
A doula will never replace your birth partner, but rather will work with them to support you during the process. They can allow for your partner to take breaks to get food, go to the bathroom, update family, get a nap, or whatever else is needed during delivery. Partners sometimes feel forgotten about during childbirth. Often, it can be terrifying and heart-wrenching to see the person they love in pain and it often feels like there is nothing they can do to help. Your doula will help to validate those feelings, can offer suggestions, or might just listen. They also are very good at offering a shoulder to cry or rest on, if needed.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period are an exciting time for everyone involved. This is a time when family members may reach out and want to participate in the excitement or offer their support and experiences. There is nothing like having a supportive family during this time, but that does not rule out having a doula in the room as well. A doula is not to replace your family support, but rather to enhance it. A doula can help to communicate progress with anxiously awaiting family members, can relay information, and will be able to answer any questions they may have during the birth process. In addition, doulas can be a buffer for family members who may not be as supportive of the birth choices that you have made. By empowering new and growing families and helping to locate evidence-based information, parents can feel more secure in their choices regardless of criticism.
So why do I need a doula?
Everyone deserves a doula because the process of being pregnant and having a baby is a whirlwind of emotions and preparations. A doula can help to lighten the load and navigate unfamiliar territory. She can help comfort partners and work with extended family. A doula is there to meet your personal needs and help you to have the best birth experience possible.
If you’re still not convinced that a doula can help support and empower you, check out these statistics on the benefits of having a doula present for continuous labor support.
- 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin*
- 28% decrease in the risk of C-section*
- 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth*
- 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
- 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
- 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience*
* results with a doula were better than all the other types of continuous support that were studied. For the other outcomes, there was no difference between types of continuous support.