Doulas – who is she?

This morning we’re going international and featuring our first post from across the pond. Welcome Amanda! Welcome America! A friend of mine kindly introduced me to Amanda and I’m hoping we’ll be hearing more from her in the coming months. Not only is she an all round good egg (you can check out her family’s efforts to become self-sufficient here) but she’s also managed to deliver her own baby, how cool is that?! Amanda is a doula – a job that fascinates me – and she’s put together this handy introduction to doulas, giving an insight in to what they do. 

I had never heard of a birth doula until I was pregnant with my first child. As I started reading and learning more about them, as well as reading and learning more about birth in general, I realized that I didn’t just want a doula at my birth – I wanted to be one.

Many people confuse a doula and midwife. Doulas aren’t care providers or medical practitioners. A doula is trained to provide emotional, physical, and informational support to women in labor. We help the woman have the best birth experience possible for her. We try to help her meet her goals for her birth, whatever those might be, and we help guide her down that often confusing path when something comes up that may go against her birth plans.

What is a doula? | Do I need a doula? | Riding the Stork, a UK mummy and baby blog

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Here in the US, doulas are often portrayed in the media as hippie or witchy types (and, admittedly, some of us may be that) who push natural birth above all and often create problems between clients and their doctors. But doulas aren’t just for women who want unmedicated births, and we strive to keep clear communication and support between all staff and support persons. We’re trained to provide comfort measures for natural birth as well as measures for helping to alleviate side effects that often come with different medications. Doulas can even help with cesarean births – we can help the parents understand the process fully, help prepare during prenatal visits, and if your hospital allows doulas in the surgery room, doulas can support both mom and partner through the whole process itself. While the doctors and partner might be busy elsewhere with the baby or babies, a doula makes sure that someone is always focused completely on mom and her needs.

Above all, a doula makes sure that the expectant mom is empowered and in control of her own birth. We won’t take your voice, but we can help you vocalize. We don’t make medical choices for you, and we support you through any choice you might make. If something deviates from the birth plan and mom is deep in labor-land and doesn’t notice, or is perhaps having trouble understanding her options, we help ensure that any intervention is understood and each decision made with fully informed consent.  While our primary focus is on the laboring mother, a doula can also empower and support the birth partner, often helping them better understand the process and assisting them with supporting mom in more helpful and meaningful ways.

Research* has shown that having doula support can:  shorten labor, decrease rate of interventions, reduce cesarean rate by 50%, lower postpartum depression rates, increase breastfeeding success, improve bonding outcomes, and increase the parents’ confidence postpartum. Many doulas embrace the philosophy that anyone who desires a doula should have the opportunity, and women can often receive free or reduced support services by teaming with a student doula who needs a certain number of birth hours for certification. Sometimes you might get two for the price of one with a mentor and student doula team. In addition to supporting mothers in need, there are many doulas out there who offer free support for families who are in the armed forces, who have lost their baby, who are giving a baby up for adoption, for surrogates, and for teen parents.

In addition to birth doulas, families can also find postpartum doulas who specialize in supporting families after the baby is born. Postpartum doulas assist with the mother’s comfort and postpartum care, offer breastfeeding support, help with childcare of both the newborn and/or older siblings, do light housework or errand running, cook meals, and offer information about local resources when needed. Many doulas are trained to provide related services as well. For example, many doulas, both birth and postpartum, are also certified lactation consultants, childbirth educators, massage therapists, photographers, reiki practitioners, hypnobirthing instructors, henna artists, bellycasters, chaplains, interpreters, and even midwives’ assistants, although most will stick to a doula’s non-medical scope of practice when acting as a doula. (Those who provide the same support as doulas but who also offer things like blood pressure monitoring, fetal heart tones, vaginal exams, etc. are called monitrices.)

Of course, I may be a bit biased, but I believe that there’s a doula out there for everyone. Much like care providers, sometimes it just takes shopping around until you find the one that clicks. But if you find that you live in one of those areas where quality, passionate doulas are hard to find, then maybe you might consider becoming one! It’s extremely rewarding work.

*Reference links:

Thanks so much for sharing this information, Amanda! Any of you out there considering a doula? 

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6 thoughts on “Doulas – who is she?

  1. Hi Amanda! I must admit I’d never heard of a doula until quite recently, but I’ve only ever heard positive things about them. Anything which can empower the mother and act as a channel between mother and medical people has to be a good thing. Also, it would seem that the statistics can speak for themselves. I wold certainly consider one-as much as I love my husband dearly, I can’t rely on him for that sort of professional support and guidance-somsone keeping their head whilst all around are losing theirs! I also like the idea if breastfeeding support in the early days as too often that is patchy, with the mother not getting the advice and support she needs. Yay for Doulas!!

    • Thanks, Sange! I’m glad to hear such positive things about doulas. I think you make a good point about husbands as well. Perhaps it’s different in the UK, but often in hospital births here, mom & dad/partner are often left alone for extended stretches of time. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who might not be particularly familiar with normal birth processes or who might feel lost as mom’s sole support. I do highly recommend Penny Simkin’s book, The Birth Partner, for both moms and support persons. Or anything by Penny Simkin, really. I was blessed to take a workshop with her on supporting women with epidurals, and it was very helpful for me as a new doula.

      I hope to one day become a certified lactation consultant. There’s not a lot of breastfeeding or breastfeeding support in my area, so I hope to eventually change that!

  2. Wow what an interesting post! I’ve heard of the word doula in relation to child birth before but never understood what it really meant. Thank you for sharing such an informative and passionate explanation. I’m off to google whether such wonderful beings exist in Scotland!

    • Hi, Sweetpea! I’m so glad that this post reached someone who was not very familiar with a doula’s role. I hope that I did a good job explaining it clearly!

  3. Great blog, thank you! I’ve had a couple of friends who’ve had doulas and I decided some time ago that I’d like one, when the time comes. There are a couple of ladies near me who are trained as doulas, but also trained in hypnobirthing and as breast feeding practitioners, so I’m hoping I can secure their services once I’m pregnant.

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