There is no such thing as a silly question. Most of your questions are probably answered here, but if not, please reach out to me!
A doula is a trained labor companion that provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support. There are a lot of benefits of having a doula at one’s birth. They include decreased cesarean rates, decreased use of medications for pain relief (like epidurals), decreased use of extra interventions (like Pitocin), and shorter labors. Having a doula can also increase satisfaction with the birth experience. This is often because doula can explain what’s going on during labor and birth and provide reassurance. If interventions are suggested, doula can give parents more information and encourage them to ask the right questions to make informed decisions.
In addition to their heart and hands, doulas also have a lot of comfort measures that can help the birthing person to have a more positive experience. These include aromatherapy, mellow lighting options, hot or cold packs, rebozo techniques, suggestions for laboring and birthing positions, moral support, reassurance, and verbal affirmations.
Doulas are for any mother who wants to be supported during birth. We attend births at hospitals, birth centers, and at home.
The doula’s true agenda is to help ensure that the woman’s birth plan is acknowledged and followed as much as possible. Doulas don’t project their own values or goals onto their clients, nor do they make any decisions for their clients.
I don’t want my clients to have any regrets about their decisions, so I like to ask them prenatally where they are on pain medication preference scale. We discuss what they’d like me to do if they ask for an epidural. Many choose to have a code word for letting their support people know that they are truly ready for epidural.
Sometimes when labor gets intense and things are happening quickly, the doula might be the only person in the room actively trying to make sure the mother’s wishes and the birth plan are respected. This is her purpose in being present in a family’s birth space.
A doula doesn’t replace the partner. A doula knows pregnancy, labor, and birth, and the partner knows the mother – together, they make a great team. If the partner wants to be more emotionally involved, the doula can take care of physical comfort measures. If the partner wants to be hands on, the doula can show them techniques (some of them require quite a bit of muscle so they are perfect for many partners to take charge of), while supporting the mother emotionally.
Sometimes, however, the partner feels overwhelmed by the birthing experience and seeing their loved one in pain. Doulas provide support to the partner, too, by doing things such as making sure the partner has something to eat, checking in to see how they are doing, and validating feelings. If the partner feels overwhelmed and wants to chill in a chair or go for a walk, they can do that knowing their loved one is in good hands with her doula. In this way the partner doesn’t have to be solely responsible for the mother’s emotional and physical well-being.
Nurses and midwives can be compassionate and supportive, but their role is very different from that of a doula. Nurses and midwives are focused on clinical tasks, such as monitoring the baby’s heart rate, taking mom’s vitals, performing vaginal exams, charting (there is a lot of charting!), and often catching the baby (though moms can do this too). They are usually extremely busy. Even if they wanted to provide emotional support or had skills for physical comfort measures, they usually don’t have the time to do so consistently.
It is also important to note that medical staff members usually have shifts. Once their shift is over they leave, and you suddenly have a new person taking care of you. Your doula on the other hand stays with you throughout your entire birth experience (with occasional exceptions), so you always have the comfort of a trusted person in your corner. A doula works for the birthing person, not her care provider or her birth place, and therefore has the mother’s needs as her main priority.
Birth is such an important event in the life of a woman. Her experience can affect her for the rest of her life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A traumatic experience may hinder bonding between the mother and the new baby, while an empowering experience might give the mother some extra oomph to handle the often difficult work of taking care of newborn while being sleep-deprived and exhausted. I want to help mothers have a positive birth experience and a strong foundation for their family life; after all, strong families are what strong societies are made of.