Updated: Jan 10
What exactly is a birth doula anyways, and why should I hire one?
With more and more people throwing around the word “doula”, some may wonder what the real value is in having a birth doula present at birth. While it may seem like a new trend on the outside, this long-standing practice is far from just a fad, and the evidence-based benefits of hiring a doula far outweigh the costs.
The term “doula” translates to “woman servant” in the Greek, and it is how women have been giving birth for centuries. Today, a birth doula is defined as a professionally trained support person for pregnancy and childbirth.
A birth doula is defined as a professionally trained support person for pregnancy and childbirth.
The main goal of a birth doula is to meet the needs of the family by offering non-judgmental support, guidance, and education, as well as utilizing comfort measures to help the mother through labor. By giving the family reliable and continuous support throughout the pregnancy, a birth doula can help lessen the fears and pain of childbirth through evidence-based education and hands-on emotional care.
Evidence shows that when you have continuous support from someone who is not a family member, a member of your social circle, or member of hospital staff, your overall birth outcome skyrockets. In fact, when a woman has the continuous support of a doula, Pitocin rates go down 31%, Cesarean section rates decrease 28%, and use of pain medication decreases 9%. Even more, there is a 12% increase in spontaneous vaginal deliveries, a 14% decrease in infants being transferred to a specialized infant care nursery, and overall, there is a 34% decrease in the risk of dissatisfaction with the birth experience.
While not medical professionals, birth doulas do usually meet with the pregnant mothers in their homes for prenatal appointments. There are many benefits to these meetings. During these appointments, the doula will review the mothers’ wishes for the birth, as well as educate families on the normal childbirth process. By establishing this connection throughout the pregnancy, as well as offering encouragement and emotionally supporting the mother’s birthing choices, new mothers feel a sense of safety and know that their wishes will be supported, both before and during labor.
New mothers feel a sense of safety and know that their wishes will be supported, both before and during labor.
Not only do birth doulas emotionally support the mother, but they also act as an advocate to help the mother’s wishes be effectively communicated to the hospital staff. While doulas never speak on behalf of the mother, they can help remind her of what her prior wishes were before labor, as well as help her work though what her options are in the moment. Because of their training in common interventions and knowledge of normal childbirth processes, they can help explain these options to the mother at her own level.
One of the main things doulas are known for is for helping the mother through labor by using comfort measures. This includes anything from relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, touch and massage, heat and cold methods, and helping facilitate the change in birthing positions. Depending on the mother’s preferences, the birth doula will help set the environment by adjusting music, aromatherapy, lighting, clothing, blankets, pillows, etc. The main goal is to serve the laboring mother and help her be comfortable. At prenatal appointments, the doula can go over some of these comfort measures and techniques. While a partner or relative can definitely help in these areas too, the doula is reliable in knowing exactly how to perform these comfort measures and redirect in times of stress.
The main goal is to serve the laboring mother and help her be comfortable . . . the doula is reliable in knowing exactly how to perform these comfort measures and redirect in times of stress.
The value of having a birth doula present at birth is priceless. Although the birth doula has been around a long time, it is no wonder more and more are being utilized during birth. Not only do the numbers show it, but the positive benefits create a lasting, ripple effect.
Birth should be beautiful and empowering, and having constant support from a trained professional can help families have a wonderful birth experience.
Hodnett, E. D., Gates, S., Hofmeyr, G. J., & Sakala, C. (2012, October 17). Continuous support for women during childbirth. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23076901