A doula is a non-medical support professional. There are different types of doulas, birth doulas, postpartum doulas, and more. A birth doula is trained in childbirth and provides continuous emotional, physical, and information support to women before, during, and immediately after childbirth. A postpartum doula helps a new family in the first days and weeks after birth, providing emotional, practical, and information support to the new mother, partner, and other relatives as they adjust and settle into life with the new baby. A doula provides emotional support to the mother, support for the mother’s goals for her birth and her baby’s care. She uses comfort measures to help the mother cope well through birth. She helps the woman get the information she needs to make her best choices. Doulas also facilitate communication between the birthing mother and her medical caregivers, and looks after the birth partner. Doulas are not medical professionals, so they do not perform clinical tasks, give medical advice, or diagnose conditions. They do not judge the birthing mother for the decisions she makes. She does not pressure you into decisions just because that’s what she would prefer. They do not take over from your husband or birth partner.
Is there research supporting the benefits?
The scientific research strongly supports to use of a birth doula. Women who received continuous support were more likely to have a vaginal birth, less likely to have any pain medication, negative feelings about their birth, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, and cesareans. Women who had a doula also had shorter labors by about 40 minutes, and their babies were less likely to have a low APGAR score at birth. In addition, there are no known risks to having a doula! For most outcomes, the best results occurred when a woman had continuous labor support from a doula, someone who was not on staff at the hospital, and who was not a part of the mother’s social network. Doulas have a stronger effect on decreasing the use of Pitocin, decreasing the risk of Cesarean, increasing the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth, and decreasing the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience (Hodnett, E. D., S. Gates, et al. (2012). “Continuous support for women during childbirth.” Cochrane database of systematic reviews: CD003766.)
I will have a midwife, do I need a Doula?
All of these people can provide a birthing woman with emotional, physical, and informational support, but your partner, friends, and family members are likely unfamiliar with the childbearing process and procedures, and likely have limited training in supporting women through the many variations of childbirth. In addition, this is their birth too, and they will need support as they support you. Your nurse and midwife, in addition to supporting you, will also be continuously assessing the health of you and your baby, performing administrative tasks and paperwork, and caring for other patients during your labor. In the event of an emergency, your nurse and midwife will be tending to your and your baby’s physical well-being, not your emotional well-being. Your doula’s only role is to support you emotionally through your birth.