The Doula Renaissance

With clinical studies showing a reduced need for medical intervention when a doula is present and mamas like Tia Mowry-Hardrict and Amy Schumer singing their praises, we’re seeing a huge surge in the popularity of hiring a doula. From birth plan advocacy to providing emotional and physical support throughout labor and delivery, here’s why you may want one by your side.

doula

In ancient Greece a doula, which translates to ‘female servant’, was commonly used to aid in the birthing process and make the experience for both mother and child peaceful, safe and memorable. Because births took place at home, it was common to have a group of women on hand to prevent or respond to any complications.

When births moved to a hospital setting, persons present became doctors and nurses instead of mothers, aunts and doulas. In the 1960s, women in the US started using the concept of a doula as a non-medical person who is present during childbirth to act as an advocate and support system. This was particularly beneficial to health professionals whose main focus was to provide medical care, not emotional care.

Today, doulas are becoming increasingly popular. While they are still used during childbirth, they’re also playing a role in the first few weeks or months of post-natal care.

What exactly does a doula do?

There are two types of doulas: Birth Doula and Postpartum Doula. Some doulas are trained in both areas while others tend to focus on a designated type of care.

Depending on the doula and the specific needs of each individual family, a doula essentially acts as a non-medical emotional support system who can offer helpful information and serve as a bridge for communication regarding your pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum care.

Many times a doula will also act as physical support in the delivery room. This could be administering massage to ease contraction pain, helping with controlled breathing techniques or even using their hands as positioning tools to help your baby find its way through the pelvis.

Ideally, women meet with their doula in the second or third trimester to go over their birth plan and discuss how and what decisions might need to be made if things go off track. With an emphasis on providing evidence-based information and resources to mothers, doulas encourage question asking throughout pregnancy, labor and delivery so that parents can make informed decisions about their births and not let fear of the unknown derail their desire for a safe vaginal birth.

Doulas are also there to help communicate with family members and help them feel informed and included. While childbirth can often feel like an isolating endeavor, many family members or friends want to help, but just don’t know how. A doula can suggest appropriate ways for them to offer encouragement or recommend actions they could take to make adjusting to parenthood easier.

Postpartum Doulas are key players in what’s now commonly known as the Fourth Trimester. In the first few months of a baby’s life, a doula can support a mother and baby while they learn to breastfeed and provide emotional support during a time when depression and anxiety can often spike. Postpartum Doulas are trained to understand what newborns and postpartum mothers need. From soothing techniques to breast and bottle feeding support, a postpartum doula can be the voice of reason you desperately need to hear when you’re completely sleep-deprived and completely overwhelmed. Some postpartum doulas can make meals, pick up groceries or help with light household tasks to lighten the load.

Ultimately, a doula demonstrates strong communication skills, provides empathetic advice and encouragement and aims to make the entire labor and delivery process a safe and memorable one. Whether it’s in a hospital setting or done at home, a doula is there to be your voice when you can’t speak, your strength when you feel too weak and a guide for when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What are the benefits of having a doula?

According to a study in The Journal of Perinatal Education,

“Expectant mothers matched with a doula had better birth outcomes than mothers who gave birth without involvement of a doula. Doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a low birth weight baby, two times less likely to experience a birth complication involving themselves or their baby, and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding.”

In recent years, doulas have been found to be so beneficial that some hospitals have put them on as staff. Having a designated emotional care giver allows medical staff to focus on delivering the best care possible.

What kind of qualifications does a doula need to have?

To become a certified birth doula in the United States, you must attend accredited childbirth education, breastfeeding and birth doula classes. They also have a minimum number of hours that must be met for observing births.

Postpartum doulas also study infant and postpartum care, principles of home visitations, cultural diversity, ethics and best business practices.

If you’re thinking about hiring a doula, be sure to check their qualifications, get a clear breakdown of their fees and services and make sure your personalities click. Other things to consider are your due date and their availability, if they have a back up doula in case they can’t be present and how they plan on responding if you need to have an emergency c-section.

Want to find a doula near you? DONA International has a database of certified doulas you can search through to find the right match for your family.