Throughout history, a laboring woman was surrounded by a group of women who supported her throughout the process of labor and childbirth – ensuring optimal comfort through backrubs and emotional support. This system is still in place today, though many women aren’t even aware it exists. The term for the person filling this support role is “doula”, the ancient Greek word for “woman’s servant”. While a doula wouldn’t be classified as a servant nowadays, they are trained and experienced to provide emotional and physical support to the woman in the days to months leading up to the birth, during the birth, and during the postpartum period as they adjust to life with a new baby in the household. In essence, they serve as an advocate for the woman, and for her own family.
By the way, a doula can be either a man or a woman, but is generally a woman. From here on out, I will be referring to the doula in the feminine sense, but please know that the role of a doula is not segregated solely as a female profession.
So what role does a doula play? First of all, it’s important to understand what a doula isn’t. A doula is a non-medical role. She is not there to deliver your baby, to take your blood pressure, or perform any other medical task. She will not give you medical advice. She won’t speak for you in the hospital room, or give you her personal opinion on how things should go. Rather, a doula is there to promote your comfort through physical support, offer information that you need, to help your partner best know how to comfort you, and to ensure that your entire experience is as close to your birth plan as possible. A doula is the hands of experience that helps a laboring woman feel at ease as she experiences one of life’s greatest accomplishments – bringing life into this world.
According to numerous clinical studies cited by DONA International (formerly known under the acronym of Doulas of North America), the oldest and largest doula organization in the world, there are several notable effects to having a doula present during childbirth. A doula’s presence can result in shorter labors with fewer complications. She can lessen fear and any negative feelings a mother might have towards childbirth. Her presence reduces the need for Pitocin (a drug that induces labor), forceps, or extraction by vacuum, and also reduces a mother’s need for pain medication or epidurals, and the chance of having to resort to a c-section.
But why? The studies show that a woman enduring childbirth does better when they are emotionally and physically supported by a doula. Having someone there whose sole purpose is for her comfort allows the mother and her partner to relax. If she or her partner has any questions, a doula can help them find that information. If something doesn’t feel right, having that experienced support person in the room gives them the courage to speak up. Research done by DONA has also proven that families that have doulas adapt to the new family dynamics more easily, have less postpartum depression, have lower incidence of abuse, and have greater success breastfeeding their child.
There are two different kinds of doulas available: a labor/birth doula and a postpartum doula. A labor or birth doula is someone who is trained to physically and emotionally support a mother leading up to and during her labor and delivery. Before delivery, she helps the woman know what will happen, guides her as she forms her birth plan, assists her in knowing what she will want to pack for the hospital, and helps her to come across the information she needs, even assisting with questions she needs to ask her doctor. During labor, she is available to comfort the woman physically, offer words of encouragement, and/or guide those there to support the woman so that she is as comfortable as possible. A birth doula does not replace the mother’s partner, but can actually be a relief to the partner as she guides them in how to best help the mother. A postpartum doula is there to support a mother and her family after the baby arrives. She guides the mother and baby through breastfeeding, or is able to refer the mother to a lactation consultant. She is there to emotionally support the mother and her family as they adjust to all the changes a new baby can bring to a household, including assistance with the new baby, cooking, light housekeeping, and running errands.
The Doula Connection is a local doula association here in Sonoma County, their main purpose being to pair families with a doula through their childbirth experience. Every second Thursday of the month, The Doula Connection offers free childbirth classes at My Baby News (3011A Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa), including topics like childbirth options, breastfeeding, infant care, cord blood banking, and also offer information about the newest baby products at the store.
Linda Miranda, recommended by The Doula Connection, serves as one of the excellent doulas in our county. Helping women in their journey through childbirth since she first volunteered in 2004, she has discovered a passion in guiding women and their families through the transition. Through Miranda Birth Services, she has successfully guided many women and their families through childbirth, supporting them through the process so that they are as comfortable as possible. “I try to think about how I would handle this if she were my sister, how could I make her more comfortable,” Linda told me as she described her care for a laboring woman. “My hope is that every birthing woman would be able to experience birth and the first months postpartum without overpowering fear, with lots of support and a happy family! A doula’s role is to help families gather information, shower them with encouragement and provide an experienced set of hands.”
By the way, I encourage you to check out Linda’s blog on her website. My favorite feature is the music playlists she includes for listening to with newborns, or for calming the senses of a mother when her little one is entering the world for the first time. Look for them under “Music Mondays”.
If you have questions about the role of a doula, the process of childbirth or labor, or even postpartum issues, I urge you to leave them in the comments. Linda will be answering all questions asked.