I asked my husband what he would say to a soon-to-be dad, if a man came to him for advice. What did he think was something he learned from our first birth that he was glad we changed for our second? He replied simply, “Get a doula.” I asked him how he would convince a man that a doula was more than just a “$600 back rub” (as he had once thought), and the following transpired:
Him: It’s nice to have someone there who knows what’s going on and how to help. The first time I felt like I had so much more to think about. This time, they knew just what you needed and they helped me, too.
Me: Like a personal Yoda?
Him: Yeah. A doula should be used only for knowledge and defense. Never for attack.
Men are so wise, sometimes. So, you’re wondering, what is a doula?
Doula: (noun) a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth¹
There are two well-known types of doulas – birth and postpartum. Some doulas provide both types of services, but most focus on one step of the birth continuum. A birth doula (the most well-known) is hired by a woman and her partner to provide constant support to her during her labor. I know many of you are probably thinking “Doesn’t a midwife do that?” While a midwife is certainly more likely than a doctor to “labor sit,” even if you are the only mom she has laboring at that time her focus is primarily on the health and safety of you and your baby. A doula can only enhance the care you receive from your midwife, making a strong birth team!
So what does a doula do? A doula:
- Is available to answer questions throughout your pregnancy
- Can offer you resources to help you make informed decisions
- Goes on call for you 2-3 weeks before your due date until your baby is born
- Can help you determine if you are actually in labor
- Can help you decide when to go to your birth place (home, hospital, birth center, etc)
- Offers continuous physical & emotional support throughout labor
- Can suggest positions and activities to help your baby be well positioned & your labor to progress
- Can offer you ideas and help with non-medicinal coping techniques
- Can help you to understand any interventions offered during your labor or birth
- Can assist with initiating breastfeeding
- Will visit with you postpartum to review your birth and answer questions
What a doula does not do:
- Cervical exams
- Monitoring your baby’s heart rate
- Labor interventions
- Make decisions for you
- Give medical advice
- Argue with hospital staff
Looks like my husband was pretty accurate! We did not have a doula for our first birth, so for our VBAC this past May, we hired two doulas – if one is good, two is surely better! My two doulas, Nichole and Christine, work together offering Duo Doula services (they also work independently). Although they are friends of mine, I had never experienced them in this role before. After the fact, I can tell you that some women are just BORN to be doulas! They talked me down off the ledge many times as I watched my pregnancy progress three weeks longer than my first and constantly reminded me to trust myself, and that my body would do what it needed when it was ready. When my water broke with no contractions in sight (just like my previous birth), I contacted one of my doulas first. We talked about when to call the midwife, precautions I should take, and things I could try to encourage labor myself. When we hit the point where Anjli and I were ready for the baby to come, my doulas were right there helping my husband and me decide what interventions we were comfortable with to get her here. They knew just what to do and say to make me feel strong and empowered, and they celebrated my triumphant VBAC as if it was the most exciting thing to ever happen! (Read my birth story here!)
This is just my personal experience, but according to DONA International, clinical studies have shown a doula’s presence at birth:
- tends to results in shorter labors with fewer complications
- reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
- reduces the need for pitocin, forceps or vacuum extraction, and c-section
- reduces the mother’s use of pain medicine and/or epidurals
Research has shown that parents who receive support can²:
- feel more secure and cared for
- more successfully adapt to new family dynamics
- have greater success with breastfeeding
- have greater self-confidence
- have less postpartum depression
- have lower incidence of abuse
After having had a birth with a doula (or two), I can tell you I would pay almost ANYTHING to have them with me next time. That being said, one thing many parents find intimidating is a doula’s fee. The price can range anywhere from $200 for a doula-in-training all the way to $750+ for a more experienced doula. Some will barter with you, and others will work out a payment plan throughout your pregnancy. Never be afraid to contact a doula because of her stated fee. If she can’t accommodate you, she may be able to direct you to someone who is a better fit.
This same principle applies when choosing a doula. One doula does not fit all. Each doula has her own personality and doula-style (friend, sister, mom, Jillian-style personal trainer, etc.), and it’s important to find one that works well with your vision for your birth. You need to be comfortable with this person because she will be with you and your partner through one of the most intimate experiences of your life, one you will never forget.
Only one thing is constant about birth, and that is its unpredictability. Why not have some added security by knowing who your dedicated support person will be?
For more information or help finding a local doula, visit: