Whether you’re pregnant or a new mom, you need a support system in place to be there for you every step of your maternal journey. Partners, parents, siblings, friends, and obstetricians can be wonderful sources of support. But there’s another resource available to guide you along the beautiful path of motherhood: the doula.
What is a doula?
A doula is a woman, trained in the art of nurturing, who emotionally and practically supports a woman from pregnancy through childbirth. While doulas are not medical experts, their presence has been proven to reduce incidences of preterm labor and Caesarian births by as much as 28%. Doulas have also been associated with a decreased use of pain medication during childbirth as well as shorter labor times.
Many women who employ the services of a doula are health-conscious and prefer natural labor methods like water births attended by a midwife, while others are patients of traditional obstetricians. Doulas have gained in popularity since the 1960s when they emerged in the United States, but the role has a much longer history.
The History of Doulas
From the Greek word for “woman caregiver,” a doula can be an important component of the expectant mother’s support system. “Birth companion” and “post-birth supporter” are other names for a doula, who does not serve a medical role but rather bolsters the mother’s overall wellbeing through a variety of natural methods.
Since the ancient times of Greek philosopher Aristotle, doulas have offered labor support to women in addition to breastfeeding counseling and general spiritual care.
How Doulas Help with Births
You may be wondering: How can a doula fit into my birthing experience? What are the benefits of a doula? According to DONA, (Doulas of North America), the largest organization of doulas worldwide:
Women have complex needs during childbirth. In addition to the safety of modern obstetrical care, and the love and companionship provided by their partners, women need consistent, continuous reassurance, comfort, encouragement and respect…The role of the birth doula encompasses the non-clinical aspects of care during childbirth.
Mothers also have the option of employing a doula when they most need one, which may be at any phase during pregnancy or even after birth when the coos and cries of an infant are filling the air. There are three main phases of birth in which a doula may participate. Again, these may vary according to the specific needs and preferences of the expectant mother.
The doula participates in childbirth by making the mother comfortable with pillows, cool compresses, and gentle verbal coaching. Some women select their doula as soon as they learn they are pregnant, while others wait until the third trimester to begin the relationship.
For women experiencing high-risk pregnancies that may include bed rest, the doula will stay by her side, tending to her needs and serving as a source of comfort.
After the emotional and physical rigors of childbirth, a woman may have an even greater need for an active support system. During this phase, the doula will be present in the woman’s home, assisting with childcare tasks, providing emotional support, and even offering companionship.
Other Doula Benefits
In their various supportive roles, doulas may also provide the following services to soothe and nurture mothers:
- General preparation for the birth
- Constructing a birth plan
- Sharing stories of previous births
- Administering massage and other forms of touch therapy
- Creating a relaxing environment with soft music and candles
- Coaching and reassurance
- Assistance with breathing exercises
- Clearing emotional blockages through counseling
- Adjusting the mother’s position during labor for optimal comfort
- Birth photography
Today, there are more than 10,000 doulas in the United States, with over 400 in New York City alone. Approximately 6% of the population have used a doula during childbirth, a number which has been steadily rising since the early 2000s. Modern doulas generally complete a series of workshops to prepare them for their supportive role in the birth and postpartum process. Birth Arts International, Birthing from Within, and CAPPA (Child and Postpartum Professional Association) are just a few of the organizations that train doulas and issue formal certifications.
With more than 35 million Americans practicing yoga and 7 million adhering to a vegetarian diet, the holistic approach to healthcare is becoming more popular. As a result, some insurance companies may partially cover the cost of a doula. Women should consult with their individual insurance companies to see if this may be an option.
How to Find a Qualified Doula
Moms-to-be may visit the following websites to find certified doulas as well as lactation specialists, yoga instructors, and other healing arts professionals:
- DoulaMatch: With over 9,000 doulas in their database, DoulaMatch also includes detailed doula profiles with photographs, fees, and testimonials.
- DONA: Offering certifications, webinars, and other educational materials, DONA is one of the most comprehensive doula resources on the web.
- Find a Doula: A user-friendly search feature makes Find a Doula accessible to busy moms-to-be, while a star rating system for doulas facilitates an informed decision.
The services of a doula are not intended to replace proper medical care but may be a supplement to a comprehensive birth program and support system.
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