What is a Doula?

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UltrasoundWhat is a Doula? Simply put, a doula is a labor and childbirth coach. However, I can tell you from experience, a doula is oh so much more than that! Doulas provide support, compassion and a voice for you before, during and after birth. As a good friend who is now a doula once told me, they are your “sisters” in the whole childbirth process. A good doula is worth a million bucks (but thankfully they don’t cost THAT much!) and you will not regret a single penny that you spend on one.

Prenatal Care Doula Style

The awesomeness of a doula starts right off the bat. They come to YOU! No finding clothes and shoes that fit to waddle your way to an appointment. They come right to your house (and, even better, totally understand when your house is a wreck because you can’t lean over to scrub anything with that huge belly in the way!!!) for all visits. They sit and gab with you about your feelings – physical and emotional. They answer questions. They bring you handouts, website lists, sample birth plans, reading lists… It’s endless! They are an amazing wealth of knowledge!

Most importantly, unlike most baby factory OB offices, they take the time to know YOU for you and not what your chart says about you! If you see them out and about, I can guarantee they will recognize you. Who can say this about their OBGYN unless they’ve had oodles of babies or a complicated pregnancy? Hardly anyone (okay, MAYBE if you live in a small town or something – there are always exceptions).

I remember my doula , Belinda, would just sit and talk to me for what felt like hours (I am sure it wasn’t – often she had her kids with her and I know they wouldn’t have lasted for hours in my house – even with 3 cats and a toddler to chase around!). She really integrated herself into our family and I felt 100% that I could trust her. Prenatal care is crucial in building trust. And how can you rely on someone to help bring your most important person in the world INTO the world if you don’t trust them?

Labor and Delivery Doula Care

The prenatal care builds the trust and the relationship, but the labor and delivery care is the meat and potatoes of where a doula is worth her (or his) weight in gold. I don’t say that to minimize the prenatal care because it was instrumental and meant so much to me. However, if you ask someone about her doula, the answers you’ll likely get are about the labor and delivery because you wouldn’t hire a doula (just like you wouldn’t choose your OBGYN) based on just the prenatal care. You want someone to help you bring your new little person into this world the way that YOU want it.

For me, my doula was my voice when I knew I wouldn’t be in the right state of mind to stand up for myself. Even with a supportive doctor, nurses are used to caring for patients who have epidurals (just over 61% of childbirths are performed with epidurals according to the C.D.C.). While they can be made aware not to ask about epidurals, they don’t always listen. You are also not guaranteed to see your doctor when you arrive at the hospital. Often doctors will make decisions based on what is best for him/her rather than what is best for the patient. I saw an episode of “One Born Every Minute” (a labor and delivery show on the Lifetime network) where a doctor stated he hadn’t done a vaginal birth in such a long time that he had almost forgotten how to say the word “vaginal”! Having someone there with the presence of mind to speak for you when someone involved is working against your birth plan can be crucial in keeping away unnecessary interventions.

Testimonials From Mom’s About Their Doula Experiences

Mothern and newborn in bedI asked a few friends who had a doula what it meant to them. I got answers like “It gave me peace. I had an anxiety free labor.” (Marci) and “She kept me at ease. She was like a wedding planner but for births. She made sure I had what I needed, made sure the nurses followed my wishes and remembered to have pictures taken right after LO came out.” (Clpena) Those are just two examples, but every person I asked commented on their labor and delivery. Husbands are great support systems, but often they don’t know exactly what to say OR even feel that they have the power to make any difference if they were to say it.

Doula Certification and How They Help During Birth

Doulas have to attend a minimum of three births (a total of 15 hours), so they have some birth experience before certification. They also have a whole heck of a lot of training (//www.dona.org/develop/birth_cert.php) to be certified as Doula. They know what to expect out of births, doctors, nurses…. and what questions to ask and when to ask them. This can literally be the difference between a vaginal birth and a c-section in many cases (interventions often become a slippery slope to a c-section). They also know just the right spot for counter pressure during a contraction, exactly what words to say to get you through a contraction, the best positions to encourage that baby into (and out of – in the right direction!) the birth canal,… I just can’t emphasize how valuable the right doula can be during labor and delivery.

Doula’s Help Post-Birth with Breastfeeding and Beyond

Doulas are required to take classes in breastfeeding as well. Often, they are certified lactation consultants (but many aren’t, so ask if you really want this). They can manhandle those boobies like no other and are readily available for baby and you at delivery, so take advantage. Research has shown that babies who are put to the breast in the first hour after delivery tend to do better in the whole breastfeeding learning process. Most doulas are pretty passionate about breastfeeding, so they will help you learn, help baby learn, and support you along the way (as I’ve mentioned, it can be a pretty trying process – especially with your first child or if you run into any issues). They do at least one follow up visit after the baby is born, but I haven’t known a doula to refuse to visit earlier (mine came by about a week after delivery) or more often if needed. Take full advantage of your doula after delivery for breastfeeding support AND emotional support! Typically, if you call, they will be there for you to talk you through whatever is bothering you or to do a home visit if needed or desired. That’s included in what you pay them for, so get every penny’s worth!!!

Who Should Use a Doula?

If you’re planning a natural childbirth, I honestly wouldn’t do it without a doula. Midwives are FABULOUS, but they tend to be too busy to stay with you throughout your whole labor (unless you are doing a home birth – a post for another day!). The emotional and physical support a doula offers is crucial, in my honest opinion, to get you through your labor and not give in to the pressures our society has put on women to use modern medicine during this natural process of birthing a child. Even if you plan on an epidural or even a c-section, the prenatal care and after care alone would be enough incentive for me to fork out the money for a doula. To have a familiar face and emotional support while torrential amounts of hormones are surging through your body – someone who knows you and knows your wishes – is priceless. For more information on doulas, visit the website www.dona.org. There, you can find lists of DONA certified doulas in your area.

Share Your Doula Stories

Feel free to share your stories or ask questions about doulas in the “Comments” section below! I welcome your experiences as they can only help make this community more helpful to women who are seeking a more natural childbirth experience.

About The Author:

Mother of four boys and the wife of a minister in Georgia. The world is full of medical “miracles” but over time and lots of experience, this mom has discovered that raising a natural baby creates the most wonderful bonds and lessons for her children.

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August 30, 2012 1:20 am

I have been thinking about hiring a doula recently, since I heard many good things about them from friends. This article amounts to a glowing review. I have a lot of questions and concerns as the time remaining before the big birth event gets shorter and shorter, yet I have really only limited time with my OB/GYN. I also feel that I have a limited relationship with her (when the article mentioned ‘baby factory’, I could not help but agree). Reading about how much training and certification is required to become a doula was surprising yet reassuring to me, since it shows that the job is taken seriously by people who have really studied childbirth and prenatal care and can offer a lot of wisdom and information. That seems like exactly what I need at the moment. After reading this article, I am leaning much more toward the natural childbirth than I ever would have thought. Some of my friends had C-sections or were given drugs during childbirth and seemed let down with their birth experience. I was apprehensive about this before, but I now am sure that hiring a doula will be great for me.

August 24, 2012 6:03 pm

I really agree with this article! All women who have given birth know that that child birth is extremely painful. When there is someone there coaching while she is giving birth, a woman may not feel physically better, but she will feel mentally better. Even though the woman giving birth may get enraged with her doula or the father for not really experiencing her pain, it’s helpful to have someone there coaching and giving support.

In addition to childbirth, a doula can assist you during the months of your pregnancy. Many doulas are mothers themselves and know exactly what you are going through. They are compassionate and well-trained. Most doulas go into the business because they want to help others. It’s like having a great friend throughout the process of pregnancy and childbirth.

Every woman needs as many people on her team as possible. Doulas need to attend three labors before becoming certified. Doulas can help quite a bit because they have been through similar processes before. Your doula may not understand the exact pain that you’re going through because everyone’s labor experience is different, but they have seen the process before and they also know what you will need to do while giving birth. If you’re a woman who is pregnant, a good doula might be the key to a great delivery.

Kathy Faust
August 4, 2012 10:19 pm

I thought I had read everything there was to read about parenting. I mean there are only million mom blogs out there that cover just about every topic there is to parenting. But with all my reading, I have to admit that this is the first time I ever heard of a doula and I am totally impressed.

Personally, I have no need to have any more children. I am quite happy with my small family. But if I was going to do it again, I think it would be awesome to use a doula. I also think that every first time mom should have a doula. So many fears could be put to rest and the new mother would actually have some idea of the reality that is going to happen, but she would have someone there with the experience to talk her through the whole thing.

I think most moms to be think they are going to give birth and everyone is going to treat them as good as gold. That might be the hope, but it is rarely the reality. The only thing good at all about my childbirth experiences were the children that resulted. Otherwise, they could have fired every nurse on the spot and it would have been an improvement.

August 2, 2012 11:49 pm

You really make me feel like having a doula would have enhanced my pregnancy. I remember sitting in my apartment a lot with different feelings and worrying about what giving birth was going to be like, and if I was going to be able to handle it. I had some great doctors, and everyone was very kind to me, however, having a friendly person come over and talk with me about the process and explain the changes my body was going through in simple terms, would have been great.

However, it sounds like doulas are people that you pay out of your pocket. My insurance does not cover things like this and my budget probably would not have allowed it either at the time. If I have another baby, I might consider it, but I don’t know. I’ve had some experience at this point, but they say every pregnancy is different. I guess I might have different emotions with a new baby.

I can’t help but comment that I bet the doula offends delivery room doctors and nurses sometimes by being so hands on. Great for the mom, probably frustrating for them.

July 25, 2012 11:14 pm

I had never heard of this kind of caregiver before nor even heard the word “Doula” used in any kind of context. But from what this article says, it seems like a very natural and holistic way of preparing for and carrying through with child birth.

Parents are asked to do more and more these days in regards to working multiple jobs and so forth, there simply is not the time to prepare for all the variables that a Doula could make you ready for. Plus, with the time that gets invested on an individual level between the mother and the Doula, there is a much greater bond created than is formed between a doctor and patient.

For a first time mother, who really cannot know what to expect, having somebody like this in your corner would provide a tremendous amount of comfort and assurance that things were going to go according to plan. Furthermore, it is safer to have someone who is less emotionally involved in the birth and the family there to help make decisions about the safety of mother and child.

Kathy Faust
July 25, 2012 9:37 pm

As someone who wants to avoid the harshness of a hospital delivery, I had already considered having my children at home. What I hadn’t considered was a doula. This is something I had heard of, but didn’t know anything about. I was so happy to come across this article and gain a better understanding of what it was and how a doula could be beneficial.

I love the idea of one-on-one care with someone that treats you like a friend, rather than another patient. Being able to connect with someone on such a level would make me feel much more secure about my pregnancy. The fact that these professionals take the time to know you as a person and not just a patient is amazing. I feel that charts and tests can only tell a doctor so much. Getting to know you, and how you live, can help feel in the blanks.

The only thing I would have liked to know more about is how much a doula costs. I assume this is an expensive service, but how expensive? Also, is this something that insurance would cover? I’m guessing it’s not since most insurance companies don’t approve of more personal, natural care.

Kathy Faust
July 23, 2012 10:47 am

It sound like having a doula would be an incredible experience. It also sounds like this is another instance of history repeating itself. From what I have read, pregnant mothers used to have lots of support from the community. It seemed to me more like a pregnancy years ago was a community even than just one between a mother and her unborn child. That is how it should be in my opinion. We look at it today as a commonplace event and throw a shower. That’s it. One shower and you are on your own. It is like we have forgotten that this is a new life, a whole new personality that will be joining the world. That’s a pretty big deal.

I did not have much of a support system when I was pregnant. I had a lot of health issues and restrictions. But I worked two jobs for most of my pregnancy and I started to feel like it was my baby and I against the world. That was a pretty lonely feeling. I never even heard of a doula then. It seems like that would be like having a sister in pregnancy or something. I’m glad you got to experience this and I thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of the world. It really sounds amazing.

July 19, 2012 9:46 pm

This interesting article examines the role of a doula. As the author explains a doula is a labor and childbirth coach. However, I think the main point of this article is that such a person can really become much more than simply a coach. It seems to me that this person can really become like a guide and a mentor.

A woman who is having a baby, especially one who is pregnant for the first time, can really use help and support anywhere possible. After having read this article, I think the whole idea is that the doula actually takes the time to get to know you and everything actually becomes much more personal.

Certainly, your doctor can be a big help during the process of pregnancy and childbirth. However, most modern OB practices are fairly large, and the doctor may not really even have the time it takes to get to know you on a personal level, even if they wanted to. On the other hand, this is one of the specialties of the doula. They can become like a sister.

Kathy Faust
July 19, 2012 8:35 am

This just might be the coolest thing I have read all week long. What is really odd is that this used to be the common practice. I don’t think they had a name for it way back then, but women always helped each other through child birth. In some cases, the men were not even allowed in the area while the mother was giving birth or doing anything related to giving birth. The women knew what was going on and they helped each other through it.

I think this would be something most excellent for a single mother who is going through her pregnancy all alone. It can be a really scary process, especially the first time. If you don’t have a partner to talk about your fears with, you are not only going to be unhappy; you are also going to be sending stress signals to your baby. Pregnancy can be stressful enough even under good conditions. Under conditions that are less than ideal, it can be downright miserable and unhealthy.

If I had a daughter, I think I would try to get her to have a doula. I did not have anything like this when I was pregnant, but if I had, I would have been grateful for it.

Kathy Faust
July 11, 2012 6:46 pm

I never heard of a doula before reading about one here. How interesting! It would be nice to have someone like that on your side during the pregnancy process. I know I would have appreciated it. People are so desensitized these days that they often forget that everyone handles things differently. I mean, my pregnancy was not the same as yours because we are different people with different bodies. But, the moment you walk into the OB/GYN office, all of a sudden you are just a number waiting to have another number.

I really hate the trend of having more than one doctor too. I had to deal with every doctor in the office just in case mine wasn’t around when I went to have my baby. That’s just what every woman wanted; multiple people poking and prodding where no one is supposed to. And if they could rush you through a bit faster or put a few more magazines on the table that feature anorexic models while I try to waddle past, yeah, that would just be awesome.

Whew! Sorry..just wish I would have had a doula during my pregnancy, delivery and beyond!