The word ‘doula’ is Greek for “woman servant or caregiver.” These days, the term doula refers to a woman who provides support for mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. My favorite definition for doula is that of the protector of the birth space. Simply put, doulas love birth and trust that it is a normal, natural and instinctive process that should be honored and respected. Doulas are hired by expecting parents to help create a positive birth experience and make sure their wishes are honored. Studies have shown that having a doula present can reduce the length of your labor and reduce the need for medical interventions.
What kind of training does a doula have?
There are several organizations that provide training for birth doulas. Programs cover the childbirth process, comfort measures for birth, commonly used interventions during labor, and breastfeeding basics. Doulas who pursue certification are required to attend several births, observe one or more childbirth education classes, take a breastfeeding course, read several books, and meet other criteria specific to the certifying organization.
How is a doula different from a midwife?
A midwife is a trained medical provider. She is trained to catch babies and handle medical issues that may arise during labor. Doulas do not perform any clinical tasks (such as cervical exams, checking fetal heart tones, or administering medications) or provide medical advice. Instead, a doula provides emotional support, physical comfort measures, and information to help families make informed decisions.
What can I expect a doula to do for me?
Your doula will most likely meet with you at least twice prenatally. During that time, she will discuss your goals and wishes for your birth, discuss comfort measures for you to practice, and help you write a birth plan. She will answer your questions about labor and birth so that you are confident in the choices you have made.
When you go into labor, your doula will join you once you feel like you need additional assistance. She will make sure you’re comfortable and suggest positions that may assist in helping labor progress. She may massage your back or apply counter pressure during contractions. She will help you remain calm and remind you to breathe. She will also make sure that you’re staying hydrated and that the space where you labor is set up as you desire (lighting, music, candles, etc).
If you have questions about interventions or other situations that arise during labor, your doula can help you evaluate the benefits and tradeoffs so that you can determine what choice is best for your family. A doula should never make decisions for you, but will empower you to make great choices.
Your doula will stay with you for a couple of hours after your baby is born. She will help you establish breastfeeding and make sure your new family is settled before leaving you to bond.
During the post-partum period, your doula will stay in touch with you and meet with you once or twice to make sure you are transitioning well. She will discuss baby and self care and assist you with breastfeeding if you need it.
My significant other/mother/sister/best friend will be there. Do I still need a doula? I don’t want him/her to feel replaced or uncomfortable.
Doulas and other labor support people make great teams. A good doula never replaces your labor support. Instead, she recognizes that labor can be physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone. The doula enhances the role of your labor support person by giving him/her encouragement, suggestions, and breaks. Labor support people often feel a lot of pressure to perform and remember everything from childbirth classes. Having a doula relieves that pressure. Having a doula present allows your partner to focus on you without having to worry about anything else happening around you. She can make sure the lighting and temperature are appropriate, turn on music, get drinks and snacks for you, and provide tools that will make you more comfortable.
Daniel King, husband of Red Stick Moms Blog contributor Lisa, says, “Having a doula allowed me as a husband to be the support that my wife needed. She would quietly remind me to try different things while also keeping an eye on Lisa’s progress. She allowed us to have the exact birth that we had dreamed of, which was Lisa and I in control of the entire situation and everyone remaining calm in a zero-stress environment. I believe that having someone on the outside looking in who knew ahead of time our exact wants was the key to our successful births.”
I’m planning to get an epidural or have a cesarean. Can I still benefit from hiring a doula?
Absolutely! Doulas support all types of women, regardless of the birth they desire. Red Stick Mom’s Blog reader Valerie Woerner says, “As a former wedding planner, I knew having an expert on the day of a big event helped brides relax more and ENJOY the day. It’s possible to get married without a planner but I knew the little things they do would increase a bride’s enjoyment. I realized a doula was a similar role for a birth. Plus, it was my first baby and I knew I didn’t have a clue of everything I needed to know. I wanted to get to a certain point without an epidural because I heard it would lower my chances of a C-section. I figured a doula could help me get to that point more peacefully. Also, I heard a statistic that laboring with a doula resulted in a shorter labor overall.”
If you have an epidural or need to labor in bed, a doula can help you with different positions that can help keep your labor progressing and can answer any questions about the birth process.
If you know that you are having a cesarean, a doula can explain the process so you know what to expect. Should you and your baby be separated for any reason, the doula can stay with you so that your partner can stay with your new baby.
What goes into a doula’s fee?
Having a baby is expensive. Doulas realize this. If it were up to us, most of us would attend every birth for free. We love it that much. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always allow us to do that. Most doulas are self-employed, and there are several things to consider when determining a fee. Like any business owner, she has expenses for training and continuing education, supplies, and transportation. Most doulas have to find reliable childcare that can be available at a moment’s notice and for an undetermined amount of time. Typically, she also pays another doula to serve as a back up in case there is an emergency that prevents her from attending your birth.
Doulas also have to take into consideration the time commitment that they make to their mamas. Most doulas provide a free, one hour, consultation and a couple of two-hour prenatal meetings. She goes on call once you are 38 weeks pregnant which means that she is available 24 hours a day in case you go into labor. She typically tries to stay within an hour or so of home so that she can get to you as soon as possible. Additionally, doulas provide unlimited phone and email support if you have any questions or concerns. Once you go into labor, your doula is there until your baby is born regardless of how long it takes. Doulas typically invest 30-40 hours on average with each client.
Many doulas are willing to barter for their services. They may also offer services on a sliding scale for those who qualify and/or discounts for military families.
What questions do you have about how a doula fits into your birth team?
To learn more about local doulas, the upcoming Doula Speed Dating Event on February 16th at 2:00pm is designed to allow parents in Baton Rouge who are expecting to meet several local doulas in one place. The event is free, but due to space limitations, registration is required. Email [email protected] to register or visit the event page here.