"If you don't know your options, you don't have any." - Diana Korte
When you decide to include a doula on your birth team, you improve your chances of having a healthier and more empowering birth. What is a doula? A doula is a professional who provides emotional, informational, physical, and practical support for the expectant, laboring, or postpartum mother. A birth doula specializes in supporting the mother during labor.
Dozens of research studies have conclusively shown that birth doulas not only help the mother emotionally, but also increase the chance of her having a healthier birth and newborn.
Just what has research shown? When you have a doula at the birth . . .
Doulas Lessen Stress on Fathers Miriam Kamin, a mother from New Hampshire, says the doula was a great support not only for her, but her husband as well. "Although my husband really wanted to be a tireless and supportive coach, my guess is that it was a pretty scary time for him," Miriam says. "We both really appreciated having a calm third party present; someone who'd been through this before and knew what was normal and what wasn't. Also, he could step out for a snack or to run to the bathroom and not feel like he was abandoning me."
A big stress for many partners is feeling they need to support the mother during the birth and advocate for her, while at the same time, the father has as many emotional needs and worries as the mother has. Also, the hospital environment can be intimidating itself, with nurses walking in and out, and the doctor usually not being around to answer many questions.
"I think one of the most important things my clients have experienced is that they truly enjoyed their birth experience," says Kym Benner, a doula for over 17 years from Riverside, California. "[The mother and father] were both taken care of by someone else, a professional, a doula, who was there for them."
Kym continues, "[Mom and dad] didn't have to worry about what was going on because they have the doula there to explain and advocate for them. The bond between the mom and dad was not only left in tack -- it was strengthened -- because of the help and support of the doula."
Doulas Provide a Constant, Calming Presence Something a doula provides that a nurse and doctor just can not provide is a constant presence. The doctor isn't typically available during labor, and usually shows up right before the birth. Nurses on a labor and delivery unit are tending to the needs of several patients at once, not to mention the paper work and nitty-gritty details of their job. Though many would love to have the time to provide support for the family, this simply isn't practical.
"From my perspective," Miriam says, "it was wonderful to have another woman there who would not only rub my feet and such, but tell me that I could do this, I was doing great. Nurses and doctors seem to go through a revolving door during all but at the very end of labor. They're there, they're gone, someone else shows up. The doula was a constant, calming presence."
A doula also can help provide the laboring mother with the support and time to consider her options at a relaxed pace. Ana Hill, a certified doula instructor and doula for eight years, had a client, Reba, who spent several hours at 9 cm dilated. "When the doctor insisted on a c-section, Reba remembered my urging to ask plenty of questions," Ana explains. "She discovered that her baby was not in distress, and asked for more time. During the 30 minutes she was given, I did an intense visualization with her, focusing on dilation and dissent."
The time and visualizations worked. It was just want Ana's client needed. "When the doctor came back prepared to do a c-section, she was surprised that Reba was [completely dilated], and the baby had descended. Reba went on to have a vaginal birth."
Doulas Help Lessen Anxiety While childbirth is an exciting and joyful moment, it is also one that can be filled with anxiety and fears. "Our doula was very intuitive in terms of figuring out what I needed, and when," says Miriam. "She provided physical comfort, as well as talking me through things when I needed it. She was incredibly compassionate."
For women with special situations, a doula's presence is especially needed. Teenager mothers, single women, or women with high-risk pregnancies benefit greatly from a doula's service. Also, with the support of a doula, women who have had traumatic experiences in their lives can come out of the birth feeling empowered.
"Sondra had a history of childhood sexual abuse and psychiatric problems," Ana Hill explains. "Her first pregnancy was terrifying to her, and her labor and birth triggered many intense feelings and memories. Her doula helped keep her grounded in the present and sensitively supported her choice to get an epidural by describing it as a good tool for coping with the sensations of birth."
Sondra made her way through the birth and went on to become an excellent mother. "Because of the doula's care," Ana says, "she's looking forward to her next birth with excitement, and has had a much more peaceful pregnancy this time. The doula's tender care during her first birth was instrumental in making [the birth] a tremendous healing experience, rather than a traumatic one."
Doulas truly can make all the difference.
Jessica Oren is a certified Birth Doula (CBI) and a Family Herbalist ~ graduate of The School of Natural Healing. You can find her on Google+
Jessica Oren is a certified Birth Doula (CBI) and a Family Herbalist ~ graduate of The School of Natural Healing. Founder of DAWN Foundation and North Texas Doulas. You can find her on Google+
“Although the popularly desired outcome is ‘healthy mother, healthy baby,’ I think there is room in that equation for ‘happy, non-traumatized, empowered and elated mother and baby.’” – Midwifery Today