Doula isn’t a word most medical staff hears every day, and when it’s mentioned by expectant parents, it’s often met with confused looks and following questions. But for a growing segment of the pregnancy and delivery fields, it’s becoming a word that is increasingly associated with lower labor interventions and better birth outcomes.
A doula is a professional labor assistant, a certified or licensed individual who is trained in non-medical comfort measures to assist a laboring mother and her birth team throughout both childbirth and postpartum periods. These assistants use their wide variety of skills to aid women in their efforts to have the healthiest and safest birth possible. Researchers have recently found that doula-attended births are often shorter with lower rates of complications and cesarean sections.
Hiring a doula begins far before an expectant mother goes into labor. Once hired, a doula will work with the patients on creating a birth plan, learning what comfort measures are most effective, and creating a bond that will allow the doula to be most effective during labor. Many doulas also offer massage therapy, hypnosis (Hypno-Birthing), Lamaze, lactation and breastfeeding support, and even postpartum care for both baby and mother.
Once a woman goes into labor, her doula provides non-medical comfort measures, and work as an advocate for the laboring woman to make sure that her wishes are followed. Having a doula allows a lying-in woman to labor freely as she chooses, whether she wishes to avoid any unnecessary interventions, or wants to be able to move around freely as they progress. The support of a doula can have a huge influence on the duration, pain management and overall successfulness of birth. Many mothers-to-be expect to get that type of support from nurses, but medical staff is often caring for multiple patients at the same time. Having a doula ensures that a woman will receive consistent support through every single contraction. It’s often assumed that birth partners will be able to provide labor support, when in reality most partners are nervous and unsure of themselves in this important role. So certified or licensed doulas have assisted many women through birth and can provide the needed support for both the mother and her partner based on their rich experience and skills.
A newly released study has now shown that babies breastfeed more easily and experience less latching issues when a doula is present during delivery and postpartum. Many doulas offer lactation and breastfeeding support in the hospital as well as at the new mother’s home. Sometimes, doulas will continue to provide non-medical care for their clients, whether it takes the form of childcare or providing education about caring for a newborn.
One of the most important parts of postpartum care a doula can provide is emotional support of the new mother, specifically helping her identify and cope with the warning signs of mood disorders such as postpartum depression. The unique role of a doula allows babies, mothers, and their families to have a safe and nurturing environment to become more bonded in their newly forming relationships.