A birth doula is a professionally trained pregnancy and birth guide who serves and supports women and families through their pregnancy and birthing experiences. A doula provides emotional, physical, informational and self-advocacy support. She provides emotional support with words of affirmation, verbal guidance during difficult parts of labor, assistance in releasing of fears and continuous one-on-one support. Physical support is provided with counter pressure, massage, hot or cold therapy and position changes. Informational support is given by providing unbiased evidence-based information, education on medical procedures and the birth process and suggesting various tools in labor (positional changes, breathing and relaxation techniques). The doula helps the person giving birth to become informed about various options. It is not the doula’s role to persuade her to make a particular choice. Lastly, the doula supports the birthing family in self-advocacy by encouraging them to voice their desires and facilitating communication with medical staff. The doula is sure to be aware of any potential interventions that might occur without the birthing person’s consent and brings them to her attention.
A doula is not a medical professional and cannot perform any medical tasks such as fetal heart checks, cervical exams or administering of medications. This is outside of her scope of practice. The doula provides continuous one-on-one support to her client, unlike a medical provider.
The doula’s role is different from that of a spouse, partner or loved one, who probably has greater emotional ties to the mother and the birth. It is often difficult for a loved one to see the bigger picture of birth and he or she could become wrapped up in their feelings towards the mother and the birthing process. A doula has much experience and education surrounding the birth process and options women have. However, a partner or loved one knows the mother intimately and the doula cannot take his or her place. The doula should ideally compliment this person’s role, take pressure off and make suggestions as to how he or she can best support the woman at the level they desire. The doula should also be supportive and attentive to the partner or loved one’s needs, as he or she is going through their own experience throughout the birth process.
Studies show that when continuous labor support is provided by a professional doula, women and families can experience:
- A decrease in the risk of C-section (New study indicates by up to 60%)
- Shorter labors
- Reduced use of pitocin for labor augmentation
- Increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
- Reduced need for pain-relieving medications
- Improved APGAR scores for newborns
- Decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
- Reduced incidence of instrumental (forceps or vacuum) delivery
- Increased satisfaction with the birth experience (higher paternal satisfaction levels as well)
- Increased breastfeeding success
- Reduced chance of postpartum depression
- Greater success in adapting to new family dynamics
- Greater self confidence
- Feeling more secure and cared for
Evidence on: Doulas