While hiring a doula may seem like a recent trend in birthing, doulaing itself is a very ancient practice — and one that virtually all non-industrialized countries still honor.
The word doula comes from Ancient Greek, and means "a woman who serves." In other words, it's someone who offers mothers continuous support throughout pregnancy, childbirth and in some cases, even postpartum life.
It's important to remember that doula is a non-medical term. A doula does not replace the need for a doctor or midwife. Instead, they add a calming, personal element to the increasingly technical and impersonal birth experience we often see in hospitals.
Your doula can be both a friend and a trained professional: a person who radiates an attitude of warmth, kindness, confidence and openness. But a doula can also do more than help you connect to your spirit and your child during pregnancy and labor. Doula-supported births are also associated with a number of positive health and medical outcomes.
Here are six reasons having a doula can improve your pregnancy, labor and journey into motherhood.
1. They'll be your advocate throughout pregnancy and labor.
Doulas don't just show up at the birth. Throughout a woman's pregnancy, a doula can help a mother stay healthy and fit through the use of nutrition, yoga, exercise, and other techniques.
They also help pregnant women develop and stick to a birth plan before and during labor, when a family member or medical professional may be more willing to deviate from a mother's original wishes.
2. They can shorten the length of labor.
A 2012 study of over 15,000 women showed that continuous support from a doula led to labors that were about 40 minutes shorter on average. There was also a 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin — medicine used to induce and speed up labor — for mothers who had doulas by their side.
3. They're trained in natural pain management techniques.
Doulas are experienced in methods that can help abate pain levels. That includes gentle hypnosis, breathing techniques, prenatal massages, using acupressure points, helping with positions and reducing pressure on the sciatic nerve. The same 2012 study found a 9% decrease in the use of any type of pain medication for mothers who used a doula.
4. They can reduce the chance of a C-section.
Of course, some C-sections will be necessary. But we're also increasingly learning about the health benefits of having the baby pass through the birth canal. By advocating for the patient and the birth plan she prefers, doulas have been shown to help lower the C-section rate in laboring mothers. In fact, a 2013 study found that the chances of a C-section were more than 40% lower in doula-supported births.
5. They also help with adjusting to postpartum life.
Doulas don't just assist in birth. Postpartum doulas are also trained to help with breastfeeding, mother-baby bonding, relationships with other family members, sleep training, swaddling techniques, and other common postpartum questions. They can complement support from medical professionals by being a continual guide and helping hand throughout the experience of becoming a new mother.
6. They aim to empower new mothers.
Of course, pain management and healthy birth plans are very important aspects of becoming a mother. But a doula is also there for emotional support.
A doula's job is to empower you from pregnancy into motherhood, making you feel strong and capable in your new role. In fact, some studies show that mothers who labored with a doula were less liking to have overall negative feelings around birth, and that the presence of a doula positively impacted a mother's long-term view about her baby and herself.