What I Wish Every Woman Knew About Doulas

Written by Kate Solomon

For those unaware, the dictionary-definition for a doula goes something like this: a doula is a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family before and after the baby is born.

I've given birth three times, and each birth was as different as the child who came with it. I've had long labors and short labors. I've had babies in three different hospitals. However, my births do have a few things in common. I had each child vaginally without pain medication, and I had a doula by my side each time. I think these commonalities are directly related.

What is a doula?

Doulas provide emotional and physical support to women in late pregnancy, labor, and often into the postpartum period. Unlike midwives, doulas are not medical professionals and don't deliver babies; their presence, however, can be a game changer when it comes to the health and well-being of the pregnant and birthing mother. In all three of my births, my doula helped me to labor at home, to mitigate pain through simple, natural techniques, and boosted my confidence and morale in the hospital as I pushed my babies out.

What are the benefits of hiring a doula?

There are many documented benefits of having a doula, among them a lower rate of C-sections, less use of epidurals and other interventions, and more overall satisfaction and confidence with birth experiences.

Doulas help the birth partner, too, often suggesting specific ways that the birth partner can help the laboring mother, while also respecting the intimacy of the experience. With a doula by her side, a woman may feel more empowered to make decisions on her own and ask for fewer interventions. A doula can ensure the birthing mother receives continuous labor support, a simple but powerful asset in the birth process.

Why are doulas more important now than ever?

In 2010, Consumer Reports published a study finding that one in three American babies are born through C-section. The study reported that it's much easier to find a hospital with a high C-section rate than a low one.

The increasingly high rate of C-sections is so alarming that numerous health organizations have made the issue a priority. In March 2014, two major women's health organizations — the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (ACOG/SMFM) — published groundbreaking new practice guidelines aimed at preventing unnecessary caesarean births. The primary recommendation for shifting the trend? Continuous labor support.

Can doulas help prevent C-sections?

In 2012, the National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health published the results of a study finding that women who received continuous labor support were more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births and less likely to have any pain medication, epidurals, negative feelings about childbirth, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, and C-sections.

In addition, their labors were shorter by about 40 minutes. A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota's Public Health Department found that the presence of a doula during birth was linked to a 60% decrease in mothers' odds of having to undergo a C-section.

What can doulas do in the event of a C-section?

Doulas can provide support in all kinds of births. In the event of a C-section (whether planned or emergency), a doula can provide labor support, advocacy, breast-feeding support, and comfort to the birthing mother and her partner. Laura Rebel, a mother who birthed her first child via C-section, shared her experience:

"I was so grateful to have our doula with us. My labor was 48 long hours, and she helped me enormously with massage, oils, and supports of every kind. I credit her, 100%, with the fact that I was able to breast-feed my daughter. After the surgery, my doctor thought I was too exhausted to nurse and wanted to feed my baby formula, but the doula was my advocate and made sure that I was able to breast-feed. I'll always be grateful for that."

Is a doula right for you?

The benefits of continuous labor support are clear. Even with a dedicated birth partner, labor, birth, and the early moments of motherhood can be especially long and exhausting for both the mother and partner, and another skilled team member can be essential. Doulas help to instill confidence in the birthing mother and her partner, as well as to educate, support, and advocate. Luckily, with the rise in demand for doulas, the number of certified birth doulas in the United States has grown to over 7,000 practicing doulas today.

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