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Doulas

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by | 2 views
by Michelle Kettleborough

Pregnancy and the birthing process can be an exciting and awe-inspiring time in the life of any expectant mother. Yet there can be aspects (i.e., lack of information, fear, pressure or advice from friends and family), which can make the experience confusing and frustrating for many women. In a time when many mothers-to-be want to take an active role in their prenatal care and birthing process, they are turning to doulas for providing much-needed education, support and guidance.

What is a doula and what does she do?

The word doula comes from ancient Greek and means “a woman of service.” Doulas have a long and rich history in birthing across many cultures and centuries, and today they carry on the traditions of support and education for all birthing women and their partners. Doulas believe that pregnancy and childbirth are normal, healthy processes, and that quality support during birth contributes to better outcomes for mothers and babies. While a doula employs a variety of methods to help reduce the pain of labor and to minimize the chance of complications, continual emotional support is her most essential tool.

Is a doula a medical professional?

While midwives and obstetricians are licensed to provide prenatal care and to deliver babies, doulas are not licensed or certified to provide any sort of medical care. A doula does, however, specialize in providing the laboring mother various forms of both emotional and physical support. Doulas work with expectant families 3-4 months in advance of their estimated due date to provide prenatal education on the different stages of the birthing process, to assist in developing a birth plan, and attend the birth to help keep the laboring mother comfortable and focused.

Doulas work as educators and advocates for the mother during her birthing time so that she has a positive and enriching birth experience. Doulas can also be a wonderful resource on educating families about their rights as patients and about informed consent. This is to ensure that the mother and her partner are well informed and can make educated decisions about what they believe is best for their family and their new baby.

I am not sure about having a non-medicated birth and will be delivering in a hospital. Is a doula right for me?

A common misconception is that doulas only assist families that are pursuing natural (non-medicated) childbirth. This is simply not true. In fact, doulas can provide a great deal of assistance to those who are, either by choice or circumstance, using the technological interventions available to laboring mothers today. Additionally, doulas often work most effectively in tandem with conventional healthcare providers and hospitals. Doulas can help to ensure that women understand their options and feel comfortable and empowered about their decisions, no matter where they choose to give birth.

For many mothers-to-be, it is helpful to have a doula attend the birth to help make sense of possible interventions and to be there to support her unequivocally, particularly if or when things deviate from the intended plan.

Additionally, several studies indicate that there are many positive aspects to receiving support from a doula during labor and childbirth. When a doula is present, women are less likely to request pain medications, less likely to have a cesarean birth, and report having a more positive childbirth experience overall.

Will a doula take the place of my birth partner during labor and delivery?

A doula is not meant to replace or overshadow those you choose to have at the birth. In fact, doulas are an amazing resource for birth partners. They will suggest support or comfort measures that partners can do with the laboring mother, answer any questions that may arise during labor, and provide reassurance when needed. Doulas can also do such things as to remind the birth partner to take a moment to eat, go to the bathroom, or to step out and inform waiting family/friends of the mother’s progress. Many partners forget their own needs and can be overwhelmed by the labor process, a doula is there to assist and support them as well.

I’ve decided to have a doula attend my birth. How do I find one that is right for me?

One of the most important aspects in choosing a doula is to ensure that she is a good fit, both in terms of philosophy and personality. You do not want someone attending your birth if you are not 100% comfortable with him or her. It is also crucial that you select a doula that is certified and knowledgeable about her profession. Certification and training for doulas in the United States are available through several established organizations, some of which are the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA), the Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE), and Doulas of North America (DONA).

When interviewing a doula, you may want to ask the following questions:

  • How long have you been a doula? How many births have you attended?
  • Are you a certified labor doula (CLD) and, if so, through what organization?
  • How do you feel about hospital births and medical interventions?
  • What are some of the support measures you use during labor?
  • How many prenatal and postnatal visits will we have together?
  • What is your fee and what does it include (prenatal visits, on-call time, etc.)?

Overall, choosing to work with a doula prior to and during your birthing time is an excellent decision and can have many positive benefits. Not only can doulas help to sift through the wealth of information available to expectant mothers, they can also assist in the preparation for and actual delivery of your child. Additionally, a doula can help you to achieve a birth that is both rewarding and empowering – a great situation in which to start your new family!

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