What is a Birth Doula?
Although doulas are becoming more mainstream in our society, there are still many people who are unsure as to what a doula is. So what exactly is a doula and what does she do?
Basically, a birth doula is a trained birth assistant. We receive training about how to help moms through the labor and childbirth process. The role of a doula is really up to the mother. We are at her beck and call for anything that she needs while in labor, excluding anything medical. This may mean giving her a massage, helping her change positions, assisting her with relaxation, going to get food, entertaining older children, advocating with her to the medical staff in a hospital birth, or communicating with her about any interventions that may be necessary. We also provide physical and emotional support for mom and her partner.
While the birth is mostly about the mother, the partner can also use support sometimes, especially if labor is long and difficult. Even if it isn't, most people who have never been to a birth feel completely out of their element. This is perfectly natural, and it can be a good idea to have someone there who can support you and provide suggestions about how you can support your loved one. This can go a long way toward instilling a sense of confidence about how you have handled the labor and birth process, and even make you feel more confident as a parent. Doulas are not there to replace the partner, but rather to provide support where needed.
Before hiring a doula, you will have a consultation. It is a good idea to talk to a few different doulas just to make sure that you like, and feel comfortable with the person that you choose. This is a very important event in your life, and you don't want just anyone to be there. Most doulas are willing to provide referrals to other doulas who you can consult with. We want you to make the right decision, even if that means going with someone else.
After choosing your doula, you will have at least one or two prenatal visits with her. This is a great opportunity to get to know the person who will be with you at your birth. It also give you a chance to express any fears, concerns, or ask questions. Most doulas will help you to write your birth plan, and talk you through your options. It is important to have the birth that you want and are comfortable with. You should always feel like your opinion is heard. Your doula may have a lending library available for you to borrow from, and will likely be available over email or phone for any questions or concerns you may develop. Your doula will likely be on call 24/7 starting 2-3 weeks before your due date. This means, you can call her when you go into labor at any time of night or day.
When you go into labor, you can call your doula, and she will either meet you at your home, or your birthplace. If you are not giving birth at home, she can meet you there and work with you during pre-labor, then accompany you to your birthplace. Your doula will remain with you through your entire labor. If she has to leave, she will likely call in a backup, whom you should have already met. If you have a long labor, she and your partner may start working with you in shifts.
While you are in labor, your doula will do anything that you need, as long as it isn't medical. We can't check your dilation or your blood pressure, or monitor your baby's heart rate. We can provide physical and emotional comfort measures. This may be creating a relaxing environment, or asking friends or family to wait outside if they are becoming a nuisance. A doula comes equipped with many different ways to help you have a great birth experience. If you like massage, you may look for someone who is also a massage therapist.
Once you have given birth, the doula will stay with you for about an hour or two to assist you with nursing if you need it. Within the weeks following your birth, your doula will make 1-2 postpartum home visits. These visits are a great opportunity to talk about your birth experience and share any positive or negative feelings toward your birth. Not all births go according to plan, and this can leave moms wondering "What if I had done something different", or feeling very disappointed in themselves. Your doula was there with you through the whole thing and can provide a different perspective. She can help to ease any concerns you have regarding your experience. A doula can also provide any referrals you may need for anything from lactation consultants, to therapists, to moms groups, and more.
A doula can help to make your birth a positive, uplifting experience. They are especially useful for moms who want a natural unmedicated birth, as they are able to provide natural measures to cope with pain and discomfort. If money is a concern, many doulas work on a sliding scale or accept barter. You may also look into contacting Chicago Volunteer Doulas, or a similar organization.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.