What is a doula? Do I need one for my birth?

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A doula is a trained and experienced professional who helps women during labor and birth and who offers support to the mom and family after the baby is born.  Although a doula has no medical duties, she is present at your birth to give you reassuring support.  With a doula, you and your family will feel more secure, nurtured and confident.  The more comfortable you are with your doula, the better the birthing experience will be.

With a doula at births, studies show that labors are shorter and have fewer complications.  Doulas can help to reduce fears about birth, reduce the need for pain medications, and reduce the rate of postpartum depression.  With a doula’s encouragement, there is also a greater chance for successful breastfeeding.

There are different kinds of doulas including pregnancy doulas, birth doulas, and postpartum doulas.

A pregnancy doula serves women who have a high-risk or high-stress pregnancy.  She offers support and encourages women to relax and take the best care of themselves.  She can offer tips for healthy eating and being comfortable with changes in pregnancy when it becomes harder than usual.

A birth doula provides physical, emotional, and educational support for the mother and family.  This care can be given before, during, and after the birth.  She helps the mother get ready for labor and then to follow through with her birth plan.  During labor she offers massage and comfort techniques and gives suggestions for position changes so the baby will be in the best position for birth.  She provides support and helps the birth room feel comfortable with music, low lights, aromatherapy, or whatever the mother wishes.

A postpartum doula helps the new family after the birth. Her job is to “mother the mother.”  The counseling she provides includes help with breastfeeding, infant massage, and strategies and skills to improve the baby’s bond with Mom and Dad.  She may help with daily routines such as light cleaning, cooking, and running errands.  She makes sure the mother is eating and getting enough sleep, and will help in settling the infant.

woman supporting labor

You may want to work with a doula if you are a first time mom, a mom whose first birth was not a positive one, a single parent, or someone who would like additional help.  Insurance does not usually cover doula care at this time.  Your birth center may know of doulas who offer their services at a reduced rate or who provide volunteer doula care as part of their certification process.

Ask your midwife or birth center to connect you with certified doulas in your area.  You can also search www.dona.org to find a qualified doula near you.