I worry sometimes that because I myself have not experienced pregnancy that I might ignore the “obstetrics” portion of this blog. I hope that is not the case because many young women are dealing with pregnancy (before, during, and after). So, to try to balance this blog I am going to write about a very important topic to childbirth–doulas. (And I dedicate this article to all my friends who have given their time to serve women as doulas. We all thank you.)
A doula is person, most often a woman, who provides support to a woman during pregnancy, during delivery, and/or after birth. A doula does not act in a medical capacity in supporting the mother. Rather, it can be said that a doula’s main role is to provide informational, physical, and emotional support. A doula is usually a person trained to be knowledgeable about the entire process of birth. The history of the word “doula” is interesting and points to its current meaning and usage. It is an ancient Greek word that means “woman of service,” but in its historical context connoted “slave-woman.” (For this reason, some modern-day doulas prefer to use terms such as birth companion to avoid this negative connotation.) So, essentially, a doula is there to help the mother in any capacity but is not there to make decisions for her.
Studies show that doulas play a very positive role during delivery and in postpartum circumstances. Births in which a doula is attendant are shorter than those births unattended by a doula and are also less-likely to use or need pain medications such as epidurals. Babies born to mothers assisted by doulas are more likely to be born healthy, without complications, and are more likely to successfully breastfeed. In most countries, there are no formal or legal certifications required of doulas, though most doulas do go through training and are aligned with a doula registry. In the United States the most prominent doula registry is DONA International (Doula of North America). From their website, you can read much more about doulas and their services and look up doulas in your area. If you are looking for a doula, I also recommend searching the web with your town’s name and “doula” in the search phrase as many doulas have formed smaller, local organizations.
If you are more interested in seeing a doula in action both during birth and postpartum, I recommend watching two television shows on TLC. The first is A Baby Story. Many of the women delivering babies in this series employ a birth doula. The second show is Bringing Home Baby, which documents new parents bringing home their babies many of whom employ a postpartum doula who assists the mother in adjusting to motherhood often including lactation and breastfeeding advice. Doulas are useful for all mothers, not just first time mothers. Think about the assistance needed by a mother of more than one child when delivering a baby and bringing it home from the hospital. In all, I think doulas are a integral tool to birth, providing valuable information often neglected by doctors and other medical staff. They are immensely helpful after birth in helping the mother adjust to life with a new child. If you are expecting, at least look into the idea! Have questions, comments, or otherwise? Please don’t be shy.