So perhaps you understand what a doula is, but exactly does a doula do?
- A doula supports the expectant mother and her partner throughout the pregnancy and is available to answer any questions or concerns about pregnancy, prenatal tests, and birth.[clear-line]
- A doula meets with the expectant couple, usually in their home, at least once prior to the birth, usually 30-35 weeks into the pregnancy.[clear-line]
- A doula helps the couple to determine their birth preferences by going over the risks, benefits, and alternatives to many of the choices that will be available in labor and birth, and unequivocally supports the couples’ choices without judgement [clear-line]
- Prior to labor, a doula helps the mother prepare for birth by educating her on what to expect, providing her with a variety of coping strategies, relaxation techniques, and resources.[clear-line]
- Many doulas have an area or two of specific expertise— such as Reiki or Rebozo— and will practice these techniques with the couple prior to birth.[clear-line]
- A doula makes herself very available in the weeks and days prior to labor, helping the mother stay calm, confident, and relaxed as she awaits for labor to begin.[clear-line]
- If faced with an induction, a doula offers her expertise on gentle, natural induction methods to help the mother avoid a highly-medicalized induction.[clear-line]
- If faced with a cesarean section, a doula helps the couple prepare, so they know exactly what to expect and how to still have the most satisfying, empowering experience possible.[clear-line]
- A doula helps the mother determine the difference between false labor and real labor, and often helps to determine when it is appropriate to go to the hospital (if not birthing at home).[clear-line]
- Once admitted to the hospital or birth center, a doula helps to set a warm, relaxing birthing environment (many doulas bring LED candles, aromatherapy, and soothing music) so that the mother can labor with a sense of relaxation, calm, and peace.[clear-line]
- A doula provides continuous face-to-face support, which means that she remain by the mother’s side throughout the entire labor and delivery (unlike hospital staff who come and go, often manage multiple patients, and have shift changes).[clear-line]
- A doula encourages the partner’s involvement and offers suggestions for the partner to best support the mother (in no way does a doula replace the crucial supportive role of the partner).[clear-line]
- A doula watches the laboring mother very carefully to sense what she needs, such as hot or cold compresses, massage, acupressure, reassurance and encouragement, and counter-pressure, offering her expertise to ease the sensations of labor.[clear-line]
- A doula knows when position changes will be the most helpful to the mother and baby and can suggest other changes such as walking, resting, using the tub or shower, eating and drinking, or even sleeping.[clear-line]
- A doula works with the hospital staff— nursing, midwives, and OBs— in a collaborative manner to ensure the best care team possible.[clear-line]
- A doula ensures that the birth preferences are honored and respected, and helps the mother and partner navigate any choices that arise, ensuring that all choices are fully informed with the risks, benefits, and alternatives clearly explained.[clear-line]
- Should the need for a cesarean arise, the doula helps the couple navigate and understand this turn in events, helps to prepare the couple for what to expect and offers her support in the O.R. to help the couple stay as calm, comfortable, and confident as possible.[clear-line]
- Once the baby arrives, the doula stays for some time, making sure that breastfeeding gets off to a good start and that the family is settled in and content before departing.[clear-line]
- A doula remains in close contact in the days following the birth, offering her support and expertise in breastfeeding, postpartum recovery, and early newborn care.[clear-line]
- Most doulas come to couple’s home within 1-2 weeks after delivery to debrief the birthing experience, troubleshoot any breastfeeding difficulty, and to ensure a successful transition into early parenting.[clear-line]
As you can see, a doula’s support is extensive and encompasses many elements. Research shows that women who have doula support are more likely to have satisfying birthing experiences, fewer medical interventions including use of Pitocin and epidurals, are at reduced risk of cesarean section, and overall better maternal and fetal outcomes.
Ellie Lindenmayer is a birth doula and offers her services to Boston, its North Shore, and seacoast New Hampshire.