Ever heard of a doula? You’re not alone if the answer is no. The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “ a woman who serves.”
According to DONA International, a doula is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.
A recent study found that women with doula care had 22% lower odds of giving birth prematurely, and were less likely to have a C-section. (Among the women with doulas, 20.4% gave birth via cesarean, compared to 34.2% of women without doulas.)
For pregnant women, doulas can offer emotional and physical support throughout the pregnancy and labor; either in a hospital setting or at home. There are also doulas that are certified to help mothers postpartum.
While many people may not have heard of doulas, they are beginning to gain some recognition. TIME Magazine recently published an article on the 4 reasons why moms-to-be should consider hiring one. The author spoke with Jada Shapiro, founder of the doula referral service, Birth Day Presence, in New York City.
1. They provide extra care and support:
Although every doula has a unique approach, their main role is to care for the mom-to-be.
“Doulas offer continuous support to women both during pregnancy and after childbirth,” Shapiro explains.
“In a way, we are trying to recreate what was typical in old-world communities when women were surrounded by a vast support system of female friends and relatives during pregnancy.”
And while doulas are not medical professionals, they possess a wealth of knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth that can be extremely helpful for expectant moms.
“We work closely with our clients to de-mystify pregnancy terminology and help women interpret their options,” says Shapiro.
That said, one of the most common misconceptions about doulas is that they interfere with a woman’s obstetrician. Shapiro says it’s important to note that this is not the case. “Doulas complement the care a woman receives from her doctor,” she says. “We don’t get in the way of medical decisions.”
She also adds that while many people believe you can only work with a doula if you want a medicine-free birth, this is also untrue: Women with all kinds of birth plans can find it helpful to consult a doula during their pregnancy.
2. They can assist with pain management:
Moms-to-be are well aware of the stories of pain during labor and delivery as well as the growing physical un-comfortableness that comes with being pregnant.
“Doulas are well-trained in physical comfort and can offer a wide range of pain relief techniques and tools,” says Shapiro, including acupressure, hydrotherapy, birthing balls, massage, and suggesting position changes during labor. Doulas can also help moms relax with soothing imagery, music, and breathing exercises.
This individualized level of care can help moms feel a little calmer during one of the most physically and emotionally challenging days of their lives. “I believe that many mothers just feel generally more cared for and less alone during the experience of childbirth with the help of a doula,” Shapiro says.
3.They provide support to both moms and their partners:
“Something I hear from many of my clients is that they can’t believe how intimate their childbirth experience was, even with a doula there,” says Shapiro.
She adds that because childbirth can be such an overwhelming experience for families, having the support of a third party can be just as useful for partners as it is for moms-to-be:
“Doulas can help recall important information from midwife or doctor appointments, lend a helping hand if mom needs a massage, or just generally absorb some of the stress from the partner,” she says. “In this way, a doula can allow partners to be fully present in the experience.”
4. They’re there for you on the big day:
“Doulas are typically on-call 24/7 during a client’s ‘due window’ of 36 to 42 weeks,” says Shapiro.
When a woman goes into labor, her doula will be available for physical and emotional support both while she’s laboring at home as well as accompanying her to the hospital.
And in addition to the aforementioned relaxation and pain relief techniques, doulas know a lot about childbirth (Shapiro, for example, has attended “more than 350” births in her 13 years as a professional doula).
“During labor, doulas might suggest alternate positions; encourage different non-medical techniques to potentially help speed up dilation, such as walking around; and just generally act as a sounding board for difficult medical decisions,” she says.
If you’re interested in learning more about doulas, you can check out the DONA International website at www.dona.org. It has information on where you can find a certified doula and how the process works.
Sources: Kathleen Mulpeter, http://news.health.com/2016/01/28/what-is-a-doula-4-reasons-pregnant-women-might-want-one/