by Guest Contributor Juliea Paige
Doula: A woman whose job is to give advice and comfort to a woman who is giving birth.
Humans are mammals unlike any other. Our huge brains = big heads and standing upright, which = a narrow pelvis. It’s no wonder that because of this, women sometimes need help giving birth. Enter the birth team.
With the exception of unassisted home births, every birth team consists a medical practitioner: either a midwife, an obstetrician (OB) or certified nurse midwife (CNM). Often, whether you give birth at home or hospital, these medical staff often arrive when you’re close to the second stage of labor, leaving parents to navigate the early stages of birth on their own.
Today, many parents are also adding a doula to their birth team.
Having a ‘doula’ is not a new thing. It’s only in our recent history that birth has become a medical event to take place in a hospital. Through the ages women have always attended each other in labor, helping any way they can to ease the process of giving birth.
A doula’s role is not a medical one, but can be just as important. Giving birth isn’t necessarily a medical event, and, even when it is, it certainly is still a physical and emotional journey worthy of doula support.
Modern doulas generally attend both home and hospital births and are trained in a tremendous variety of options which can make mothers more comfortable and facilitate the process in ways that OB’s, nurses and sometimes even midwives do not.
Understanding the Modern Birthing System
Currently, the local epidural rate in hospital births is around 91%, with the cesarean rate lingering around 31%. This isn’t because women are unable to handle labor, or because one out of three women cannot give birth vaginally – it’s because natural birth is not the hospital’s specialty. This is why unsupported and unprepared parents rarely end up having a natural birth unless they show up close to delivery. It’s not that hospitals want women to get epidurals or cesareans – it’s just that their goal is to safely deliver babies and they rely on medical options because they have medical options.
Doulas are often hired by second- or third-time parents because they do not want a repeat of a previous birth experience, often saying, “I just figured that (medical professionals) do this all the time, so we just went with it.”
If birth doesn’t go well, women are sometimes left feeling inadequate, guilty or like they failed. Some feel violated (and sometimes are, when they are not respected or given options) and it is widely believed by the natural birth community that many will face Postpartum Depression or breastfeeding or bonding complications as a result.
Many decisions and options are presented to parents while giving birth, and it’s difficult to remember what you wanted because you – and your partner – are in what I like to call “Laborland.” Emotions are running high and your ability to process information is altered.
Having a trusted, educated doula who knows you and your wishes can be like having a lighthouse guiding you through the fog.
Doulas do not advocate for you – rather, they encourage you to advocate for yourself. They provide information and then respect and support your choices.
How Doulas Help Birth
Generally, depending on the needs of the family, you can expect most doulas to prepare parents prenatally by helping them create a birth plan, connecting them with resources and giving guidance on finding the right care provider and birth location.
Doulas use their knowledge of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding to educate and prepare parents for the journey into parenthood. They then take it a step further by supporting them through the birth. From the time parents feel they need support until after their baby is born, their doula is there for them.
A doula will provide comfort measures like massage, breathing and visualization techniques, Rebozo, acupressure and aromatherapy. They know what positions to put you in and what to try next to help you avoid unnecessary interventions that could be harmful to your labor, you or your baby. For example, some women can have adverse reactions to epidurals, episiotomies or caesareans. These reactions may only last a short time, or could affect a mother for a lifetime. If a patient wants to avoid some of these measures unless absolutely necessary, a doula will work hard to help them do so.
Since 1980 there have been studies conducted on the benefits of having a doula-supported labor. According to Mothering the Mother by Marshall H. Klaus, the statistics show significant decreases in birth interventions when a doula is present: a 50% decrease in cesarean births and 60% decrease in epidurals. Overall, there is a 25% decrease in length of labor
Doulas and Your Partner
Both mom and partner find having a doula to be extremely helpful and a worthy investment. Doulas work hard to support you and your partner as a team. Prenatally, a doula will help discover mom and partner’s comfort zones and expectations, which will give your partner practical tools to be the support that you need. She will also offer suggestions and provide opportunities for you to connect.
There is no one way to give birth. But if you or your partner are interested in an advocate for not only the medical side of birth, but also in the emotional, personal side, a doula may be the right option for you!
Juliea Paige bEARTH Doula CD(DONA) is an experienced and Certified Birth Doula as well as doula trainer, minister, artist and reiki master. She founded Crowning Lotus with the vision of creating a positive impact on the world by providing and connecting people, specifically women and mothers, to the support they need and deserve. You can find her at CrowningLotus.com and on Facebook.