What Is A Doula, And Why Should I Hire One?

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As a natural minded mama, when I was pregnant with my second earthside child, I wanted to learn and know everything I could about pregnancy and childbirth, in order to make informed decisions and feel in charge of my experience – no matter what happened, or where I received care from.

This means that basically, I dove head-first into preparing for baby. It didn’t look like much to outsiders, perhaps because I wasn’t overly concerned with ultrasounds and pictures of baby but was instead focused on taking care of my body and finding a provider who would respect our wishes and accepted our insurance changes; But there was much that occurred, and a lot that was learned.

Ultimately I’ve learned through life that the more you know about what to expect going in to a situation, the calmer you feel about the situation – the unknown causes anxiety, among other things. There are many ways this thought process translated into my youngest’s pregnancy and birth preparations:

I took my time interviewing potential providers; I read many pregnancy and baby books; I watched every documentary I could find related to pregnancy and childbirth on Netflix and Amazon Prime; I joined a natural minded due date group of Facebook – a beautiful community that has morphed into a true, non-judgmental support group, and is active even a year and a half after we’ve had our babes; I read all the birth stories I could find; I ate six dates and took six red raspberry leaf capsules daily; I found a bekung belly bind and tutorials to do my own for postpartum; I had all the hot pads, teas, lactation cookies, and supplements ready to go postpartum… The list goes on…

Yet even with all the preparation, what a mama truly needs is support in her birth. You can have all the teas and cookies and belly bands, but if you don’t feel respected and supported in the way you want to bring your baby earthside, it can cause unforseen issues.

Even though I wanted a hands-off birth, to let it unfold as it may, while being prepared with coping techniques and various comfort measures, I left out one very important facet to many successful natural births. Just ask any mama you know who has planned for and had a natural childbirth: What was the defining factor? The answer in most cases would be support.

Finding Support For Your Birth

This is where one area that I overlooked – support during birth by someone who knows birth as her job – comes in. What, or rather whom, would have been more helpful than all the teas and belly bands, is a doula.

Doula is a Greek word whose definition has come to mean a woman who helps other women. The word has further evolved to mean a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during, and after childbirth. (The modern Greek word doula translates literally as “servant-woman“)

The Doula Book, by Klaus, M.H. et. al (2002)

In short, a doula is a trained labor companion who can help you have a shorter, easier and healthier birth.

A Brief History Of Doulas

Doulas began to be more known in the birth landscape during a grassroots natural birth movement born in the 1960s, when women began desiring low-intervention, unmedicated, informed births. Midwives and doulas who support laboring mothers became more known, and mothers felt empowered making their own decisions for how they want to birth their babies.

It is said that the term doula was coined by Dana Raphael, a medical anthropologist, who studied birth and postpartum periods in American society, and co-founded the Human Lactation Center in Connecticut in the 1970s. From her studies, she suggested that it was a widespread practice that a woman support another woman in childbirth and breastfeeding, and that this was traditionally a role taken by a family member or friend.

Ultimately, she derived the term from the Greek, as noted above, pointed out to her by an elderly Greek woman named Eleni Rassias. Raphael also once described the term doula as coming from Ancient Greece, the time when the famous philosopher Aristotle lived, to mean female slave, or female helper.

In many ways, widespread use of doulas began as friends and others with formal or practical knowledge about childbirth simply began to provide labor support in a multitude of ways.

Evidence For Doula Support

It is proven that women who receive continuous support are more likely to have a normal vaginal birth and less likely to have pain medication, negative feelings about childbirth, and further interventions. This continuous support is best provided by a trained doula – someone who is not staff at the birth setting, and not always a regular part of the mother’s social network.

What Is A Doula Exactly?

A doula is an objective and unbiased non-medical assistant in prenatal care, childbirth, and during the postpartum period. Doulas are trained support persons who attend to the emotional and physical comfort needs of laboring women to smooth the labor process for any type of birth. They use massage, emotional support, educational support, and positioning suggestions, as approved by the mother’s physician, to help labor progress as well as possible.

Doulas Are A Mother’s Helper And Advocate In Childbirth

A doula serves as a client’s advocate for her wishes in her birth plan and also assists in preparing a plan. She encourages her in her desires for her birth. The goal of a doula is to support and help the mother have a positive and safe birth experience, no matter the type of birth she is planning, even in the unexpected.

Most doula and client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. During this time, they establish a relationship that give the mother complete freedom to ask questions, express fear and concerns and take an active role in creating a birth plan.

During delivery, doulas are in constant, close proximity to the mother at all times. They can provide comfort with pain relief techniques such as breathing, relaxing, massage, and laboring positions. Doulas also encourage participation from the family, as mother requests, and offers reassurance.

After the birth, a doula can assist in postpartum and breastfeeding care, and encourage bonding between the mother, family, and the new baby. It is helpful to find a birth doula who is also a postpartum doula, to extend care and relationship with her, and easily transition into the new role support that a mother needs.

Why Should I Hire A Doula?

So in short, yes, many of us mamas overlook this one area of our birth plans which has so many benefits… support.

Support by someone who knows birth as her job, who isn’t family or your medical provider.

Support from a doula – that’s what I was missing in my births, something I wasn’t sure I needed, until it was too late.

Of all the ways birth outcomes and mother satisfaction can be improved, continuous labor support is one of the most basic and important needs for birthing mothers…And this is found best in a doula, as part of a mother’s birth support team.

Ultimately, research has shown that labor support from doulas is risk-free and highly effective.

All things considered, It is a noteworthy idea for an expecting mother to interview and hire a doula!

P.S. An article titled questions to ask your potential doula, coming soon…

What do you say? Did you know what a doula is? Did you have a doula in your birth? …Or would you consider it?

~Katherine Newsom writes at Simple Natural Mama

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