what is a birth doula?

A birth doula...

...recognizes birth as a key life experience that the mother will remember all her life...

...understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor...

...assists the woman and her husband in preparing for and carrying out their plans for the birth...

...stays by the side of the laboring woman throughout the entire labor...

...provides emotional support, physical comfort measures, an objective viewpoint, and assistance to the woman in getting the information she needs to make good decisions...

...facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner, and clinical care providers...

...perceives her role as one who nurtures and protects the woman's memory of her birth experience.
www.DONA.com


"A doula is trained and experienced in supporting women and their partners during childbirth.  The doula's role is to help you have the most satisfying birth possible - as you define it.  She learns your wishes for the birth, as expressed in your birth plan and in conversations with you.  She remains with you in labor from the time you call her until one to two hours after the birth.  She helps you in the way you want to be helped.  For example, you and your partner may prefer your partner to be your main support person.  In that case, the doula advises you both on comfort measures and ways to enhance labor progress.  She provides an extra pair of hands to massage you, to assist your partner, or to give your partner a break.  She also runs out to get hot packs, blankets, or beverages for you, or snacks for your partner.  She can reassure you both and give you perspective based on her experience.

If you do not have a partner, or your partner does not want too much responsibility, the doula can be your primary support person and can include your partner according to his or her comfort level.  A doula can be a big help during a long labor, which may be exhausting for the partner as well as for the laboring woman.  Doulas also help you ask the right questions to get the information you need to make informed decisions about your care and that of your baby.

Doula care has been studied extensively in scientific trials, and the results indicate improved physical and psychological outcomes for both mother and baby.  Some studies found shorter labors, less use of oxytocin, fewer cesareans, fewer deliveries using forceps and vacuum extractors, and fewer requests for pain medication in the women who had a doula, compared to those who did not.  Doula care during birth has also been associated with better postpartum outcomes such as less postpartum depression; better assessments by the mother of her newborn's temperament, appearance, health, and competence; more successful breastfeeding; and greater satisfaction with her birth experience.

In trying to explain these benefits of doulas, researchers state that doulas help women feel comfortable, nurtured, and better cared for because doulas remain with the women continuously and have no responsibility other than attending to the woman's emotional well-being and physical comfort.  Fear and stress are lessened when a doula is present, and this alone may be responsible for the improved outcomes.  Furthermore, women may be better prepared to take on the mothering role when their own needs for nurturing are met during the vulnerable period of labor."

Simkin, Whalley, and Keppler. Pregnancy Childbirth and the Newborn. New York: Meadowbrook Press, 2001.


Having a Doula: Is a Doula for Me?  American Pregnancy Association

The Evidence for Doulas Evidence Based Birth