What is a Doula Anyway?
For the past 7 ½ years of being a birth doula, I get the same reaction every time I answer the question, “What do you do?”. The word doula comes from the Greek, meaning female servent or caregiver. A birth doula is a woman who offers continuous physical and emotional support to a woman and her family before labor, during labor and after birth. Birth doula’s are not midwives. Doula’s do not do anything ‘medical’ for the woman or baby.
So what exactly do doula’s do? When I meet with a family, I usually will do a little experiment to show just how valuable support both physically and emotionally are when one is in pain. I will give one of the expectant parents (usually dad first ) an ice cube. I will ask them to hold it in his hands for one full minute. During this time, we do not talk or offer any advice or support at all. Then we do it again, this time offering words of encouragement and physical support such as rubbing shoulders, etc. Dads are usually amazed at the difference having support makes! There is less pain and the time goes by much faster! Having a birth doula is not having pain medication but it can ease some of the pain and discomfort of labor, simply by offering words of encouragement and physical support.
One of the ways a doula will help during labor is to encourage mom to move and listen to her body. A woman’s body was made to give birth. By moving and changing position often, (every 30-40 min), will help the baby move down and help the cervix to dilate. With a little (or sometimes a lot) of encouragement, mom will get on her hands and knees or onto the birth ball or rocking chair while laboring. Doula’s will offer both mom and dad reassurance, that what is happening is normal and to be expected during labor. A women’s fear of labor can actually inhibit labor from progressing. This fear can stem from a past labor and birth experience. It could come from not understanding labor and birth and being afraid of the pain. Sometimes fear comes from past experiences such as physical or sexual abuse. A doula will help the woman work through her fears before labor and then work to remind her during labor, that all that is happening is normal and not to be feared. A doula will also be able to provide information to the parents so they can made informed decisions during labor.
Do birth doula’s leave dad out of the picture? NO! We are a team! Dad is a very important part of that team! A laboring mother wants him close by. As women, we expect that after taking a birth class, that dad to be will be able to bring to mind, all that he has learned/heard about in class and be able to implement it at the right time during labor and birth. As much as dad wants to be able to alleviate the pain of childbirth, he cannot. Having a doula to help gently remind him of what to do is a great help. As a birth doula, having dad there and take an active role in the labor process is a big help. If a woman needs counter pressure on her back, having 2 sets of hands is a must! It gets very tiring for one person to keep that up for the duration of labor or until the baby decides to get in the right position. Sometimes dad does not know what position to have mom get in to get the baby to rotate or move down. Mom’s want dad nearby. They are a comfort to them.
Research has shown that having a doula reduces the length of labor, the cesarean rate, the need for Pitocin, need for pain medication and the need for medical interventions such as forceps. Having continues support in labor, compliments care and also reduces the cost of obstetrical care.
You are in charge of your own labor and birth. A doula is there to help facilitate those goals that you have set. Even if you want an epidural, a doula can help with continuous emotional support and even some physical support. There are still many things you can do with an epidural in place to help move the baby down while remaining in bed.
Doulas are trained professionals that are certified through many different groups… a few are, DONA, ALICE and CAPPA. They are trained to understand the physiology of birth and emotional needs of a mother in labor. Depending on the area you live, a doula can cost between $400-$800…sometimes more in areas like CA or NY.
Having a birth doula does not take the pain of labor away, but it can greatly reduce the pain. Physical touch is stronger than the pain receptors in our brain. By using massage or gentle touching or even water, the amount of pain you feel can be reduced.
I am the wife to Jeff (been married for 23 years this June) and the mom to 5 girls and one boy. I have been homeschooling for the past 10 years. I graduated from MSU with a degree in special education for the hearing impaired. I received my doula certification in 2006 and my doula services are called Labor of Love for anyone in Miami Valley Ohio area.
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