What is a birth DOULA, and why do I need one?

What is a birth DOULA, and why do I need one, or "is that like a midwife"? These are questions I hear quite often.

Let's first talk about the definition of the word DOULA. According to Webster, the definition of doula \ ˈdü-lə \ noun is: a person trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth (1). DONA International puts it like this, "a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother before, during, and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible"(2). I define a DOULA as, "unlike clinical care such as a nurse, obstetrician, or midwife, your DOULA's job is to support your innate ability to give birth in the way you desire, free from judgment or external expectations."

In my work as a DOULA, I note that our primitive brains activated during labor and birth, make women more subject to external influences and more vulnerable to

persuasions that may or may not be in her best interest. A well-trained DOULA understands the need to hold space for the birthing woman and provide an invisible safe zone around her. DOULA'S support birthing women in a variety of settings, including hospitals, birth centers, and home-births. Having exposure to such experiences enables your DOULA to have increased knowledge about physiologic birth and how the current trends surrounding maternal care might affect you and impact the kind of birth you are planning. Before labor begins, your DOULA will provide current, evidence-based medical information to help you prepare for labor and birth. Your DOULA will help guide you on what questions to ask your care provider, give steps to creating your birth plan, learn natural comfort measures, and help you and your partner gain confidence and trust in your ability to have a safe and healthy birth. During your labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period, your DOULA will join you when you need her physical support; she will remain with you and support your physical, emotional, and informational needs throughout your labor and birth.

Evidence-based research has produced numerous studies, (3) on the effects of continuous support, and shows the positive impacts on birth outcomes overwhelmingly. Women who have the support of a DOULA have;

  • higher rates of spontaneous vaginal birth

  • fewer c-section births have shorter labors

  • less use of analgesia

  • report more satisfaction with their birth experience

  • have fewer vacuum or forceps assisted births

  • give birth to babies with higher APGAR scores at 5 minutes post-birth

Given these benefits, choosing a trained DOULA is an essential part of your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum plans. There are many resources available that make DOULA support possible for most women. DOULAS are a gift that will last a lifetime.

Melissa Cook CD(DONA, CLC, LCCE




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