Congratulations! You and your honey have just planned the most amazing trip. Together, you are going to summit a mountain, behold the beautiful vistas, and find your lives changed forever. You may have been planning this trip for years or be surprised to find yourself on this journey. Maybe you’re making the trip on your own. Nevertheless; you are psyched. You are ready.
The trip you are on, of course, is pregnancy. Birth is the mountaintop. How you get there depends, at least in part, on your birth team. Most people will chose to have their partner with them for birth, some will chose family members or friends. Choosing a provider with whom you connect and who shares your birthing philosophy is also a must. The third role to consider in having the most satisfying birth experience is a Doula.
A Doula is a person trained in labor support and comfort measures. Their role in your birth is to make sure you continue to eat and drink, suggest position changes, help keep you calm by staying calm, help your birth partner(s) to stay comfortable, and being your port in the storm. They are not there to give medical advice, monitor your baby or vital signs. They are there only for your emotional and physical needs. They are your tour guide up the mountain. They know the secret streams, the most majestic views, the paths to avoid, where the juiciest berries grow, and the least rocky place to pitch your tent overnight.
A doula does not replace a partner. A doula helps a pregnant woman by suggesting ways a birth partner may help- rub here, push there; how about some alone time for the two of you; you look hungry, have you eaten?, don’t forget her pushing music mix! – a doula will never and could never replace birthing person’s chosen beloved. Being the person responsible for a loved one’s comfort in labor after having little to no exposure to women in labor is stressful and can cause a rift to form when a partner is expected to remember everything from birth class while simultaneously wondering “Is this normal?, Am I doing things right?, Why isn’t she talking?”. A doula smooths those rough edges and facilitates the deepening of a couple’s relationship by providing a safety net of emotional support and concrete suggestions.
Not a metaphor person? Consider these statistics from the most recent Cochrane Review on the subject of labor support entitled “Continuous Support for Women in Childbirth (Hodnett, 2011). This study examined the results of continuous labor support for over 15,000 women’s births. Compared with women who had no continuous support, women with companions (such as a doula) who were neither on the hospital staff nor in the woman’s social network were:
- 9% less likely to use pain medication
- 28% less likely to have a C-section
- 31% less likely to use pitocin to speed up labor
- 34% less likely to rate their childbirth experience negatively.
It has been said that if the effects of having a doula present were available in medication form, it would be unethical to withhold that medication from pregnant people.
So. Find your pregnancy care provider and your preferred place of birth. Then find your tour guide.
Resources to help you find a doula:
Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr G J, Sakala C, Weston J. Continuous support for women during childbirth [PDF]. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011, Issue 2.
Written by Katie Ireland, APRN, CNM. Katie is our site lead at Minnesota Birth Center – St. Paul.