What is a Doula?
A doula is a non-medical labour assistant, who provides continuous physical and emotional support to the birthing woman and her partner throughout labour and birth.
A doula offers the one-to-one continuous care that the hospital staff team may be unable to provide. The doula role provides the birthing woman and her partner with three key things:
Physical and emotional support during pregnancy, labour and birth;
Facilitation of effective communication with the midwife or doctor during labour and birth
The creation of a peaceful and respectful space within which the woman can respond instinctively to the needs of her body and birth her baby with dignity and satisfaction.
Physical and emotional support
Doulas are knowledgeable and experienced in labour and birth and are able to offer tools and strategies for improving the woman’s comfort and managing pain during labour. The doula will also be able to make suggestions to maintain the safety of birth and to increase its efficiency.
The doula’s role is also to offer the couple the emotional to achieve their goals for the birth rather than a particular kind of birth. This ensures that the woman experiences the best birth possible on the day.
The doula can provide the partner with minute to minute reassurance that all is well and enable the partner to participate in supporting the laboring woman to the degree to which they feel comfortable. Additional support during a long labour, can mean that the partner is able to rest. This makes it easier for the partner to enjoy the process and maintain a clear perspective which can aid in informed decision-making.
Facilitation of effective communication with the medical team
The doula can support the woman and her partner by providing them with cues to ask the midwife or doctor the right questions about their care. This questioning process, enables the woman to secure the information she needs in order to make informed decisions during labour and birth. When a woman has been supported to make the decisions which are right for her during labour, her levels of satisfaction with the outcome of the birth will be high.
The creation of a peaceful and respectful birth environment
All labouring women need quiet, warmth, privacy and darkness in order to minimize adrenaline release during labour and maximize the natural anaesthetic effects provided by the body’s endorphins. The doula is able to work with the partner and the medical team in order to meet these basic needs and create a birth environment which will maintain the safety of the process and ensure its efficiency.
What services to Doula's provide?
The services doula’s provide, often include:
- meeting before the birth to discuss your birth preferences or provide support to develop a birth plan.
- access to books, videos and other resources on birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.
- being on-call for you 24 hours a day, from the beginning of the 38th week and until you go into labour.
- remaining with you once labour has begun and until after your baby is born.
- using non-medical comfort techniques for labour and birth including massage, breathwork, heat/cold therapy, hydrotherapy, positioning, guided visualization and enhancing privacy.
- facilitating effective communication between you and your midwife/doctor.
- documenting your labour and birth through a written birth log, photography or video as desired.
- meeting with you after the birth to discuss the birth and provide you with support around early parenting issues.
- Hodnett, E.D., Gates, S., Hofmeyr, G.J., Sakala, C. and Weston, J. (2013) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 2.
Informed and experienced
A doula is a woman who is experienced in meeting the needs of women in labour and birth. She may also have training which provides her with a midwifery knowledge base.
Physical and emotional support
A doula is able to provide physical support during labour including preparing the environment, use of heat, water, massage and touch, assistance with positioning and generally 'helping-out'. She is also able to provide unconditional support to the woman and her partner to birth with satisfaction and dignity. She is a facilitator of good communication between the woman and her doctor or midwife.
Women who experienced continuous support in labour are more likely to have a normal vaginal birth and less likely to use drugs in labour or express dissatisfaction about the birth. Their babies were born in better condition (Hodnett et al. 2013).