A labor and birth doula is trained to give non-stop support and attention to the woman in labor, and, as Paulina Perez states, “to the childbearing family.” I love that term, because often, the birthing woman will have a husband or partner, a mother or mother-in-law and others who may be present during the labor and birth. Doulas can provide information and support to all who attend the birth.
Doulas are (or should be) highly trained and educated in the normal birth process and in methods and techniques (such as relaxation, massage and pressure points) that can help reduce labor pain “naturally” or without medication. Professional doulas are trained in maternal positions and movements that can help reposition a baby during the labor process, which can help the labor progress more steadily.
Doulas are not just helpful in unmedicated births, however. Women receiving epidurals or other birth meds have also reported more positive experiences when a doula was present, and some studies indicate the use of interventions remains lower when a doula is attending the birth. With a medicated birth, doulas provide explanations and answers to questions about the medical tests and processes involved in medicated births, and they continue to provide emotional and physical comfort to the mom in labor. Also, if the medication doesn’t work as desired or expected, a doula can be very helpful to provide comfort to the laboring mom while she is confined to the bed and equipment.
Most doulas stay in close contact with the mom toward the end of her pregnancy and go on call about two weeks prior to the due date. They try to arrive to assist the mom within 45 minutes to an hour of being called (check with your personal doula on this, as this may vary), and they remain with the mom 24/7 from that point on until the baby is born. A labor and birth doula will also stay with the mother for a few hours following birth to help facilitate breastfeeding, answer questions about newborn behavior and give postpartum advice.
It is important to know that doulas do not do any kind of medical evaluations. They do not do cervical checks, blood pressure checks or any kind of medical test or evaluation. Midwives, doctors and nurses are the experts in that area. Doulas are the experts in understanding the emotional and physical needs of a woman in labor, birth and postpartum, and how to meet those needs in a non-medical way.
Dr. Kennell states that the relaxation, comfort and reassurance of a doula’s emotional support has “…a similar effect as an epidural.” (Interview with Emily Ray in New Life Journal, 2004) That’s a pretty good vote of support! (Click on Doula Services to read more about the positive impact doulas can have in the birth experience.)
If you would like to contact me about my doula services, please click on Contact Julie and I will be happy to converse with you by email or phone.