by Shannon Smith
You may have heard the word before: DOULA. What is a doula? The Greek word, doula, means women’s caregiver. Nowadays, we use the word to describe a trained and experienced labor and or postpartum companion who provides the mother and her partner continuous emotional support, physical comfort, and assistance in obtaining information before, during, and after childbirth. Unlike a midwife, doulas are not medical professionals and therefore cannot administer medication or give medical advice. Doulas are typically certified, with some courses taking over a year to complete, and practical training is usually involved. DONA International is the first, largest, and leading doula certifying organization. DONA International was created in 1992 when they professionalized the role of the doula. Since then, they have certified more than 12,000 DONA International doulas in more than 50 countries. Their primary function is to provide excellent doula education and certification to a diverse population world-wide.
Why might one consider hiring a doula to support childbirth and the transition to motherhood? Traditionally, this role was filled within the birthing mother’s family or tribe. Grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, and experienced women all gathered around the birthing mother to ease her transition through labor, delivery, and motherhood. In ancient traditions, specific rituals and practices were performed with and for the new mother. In this modern day society, the beautiful tradition of an entire village gathering to support and celebrate birth has been lost. Families are separated by miles and time. As a society, this role has been released to the medical professionals. A doula recognizes that birth is a key life experience that the mother will remember forever. She understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a women in labor. A doula will stay by the side of the mother throughout the entire birthing process. She will facilitate communication between the laboring mother, her partner, and her clinical care providers. A doula’s role is one who nurtures and protects the women’s emotional experience of her birth. A doula becomes an integral part of today’s birthing mother’s tribe.
How will the birthing experience be influenced by a doula? A birth doula’s primary role is to offer a continuous presence for emotional support, physical comfort, non-clinical advice, and guidance for the mother and her partner. Studies show that having a doula present during birth is associated with reduced mortality rates, improved overall health of the mother and baby, shorter labor times, reduced risk of cesarean births, and a lower need for medical interventions such as instrumental delivery or pain relief. Having a birth doula may also reduce the mother’s negative feelings about her childbirth experience.
What does a postpartum doula do? Bringing home a new baby is one of the most thrilling, beautiful, and challenging times for new parents. Adjusting to life with Baby is exhausting. A postpartum doula can provide reassurance, guidance, and practical extra hands during this critical time of transition. The immediate postpartum period is referred to as the Fourth Trimester. This time of transition has the potential to enhance or discourage new parents as they set forth on their parenting journey. Postpartum doulas mother the new mother. Their presence can bolster confidence in new parents, ease communication, and offer gentle, practical support, such as breastfeeding assistance, basic newborn care, infant soothing to encourage bonding, light housekeeping, light meal preparation, overnight care, and emotional and physical support during a healing recovery period.
How does one find a doula? Meeting and matching to the right doula is easier than one may believe. Birth professionals are more than happy to share their resources. They have extensive lists of care providers they would recommend: childbirth educators, midwives, naturopathic clinics, OB/GYNs, pediatricians, lactation consultants, prenatal fitness instructors, birth centers, hospitals, mommy groups, etc. Some doulas work directly with hospitals. Friends are usually happy to refer a care provider that has made a difference in their lives. Local cooperative services may offer networking opportunities for doulas and potential clients to meet and get to know one another. Capital City Doula Collective serves the Sacramento and surrounding counties. They offer “Meet the Doula” events throughout the Sacramento area.
When birthing mothers are celebrated and supported, the natural passage through motherhood is a beautiful journey. Having a birth doula and postpartum doula at her side, can raise confidence and gently ease this transition, even if the reality is not what she expected it to be. Partners also feel a greater connection to the birth and are equally affected by the presence of a doula. The emotional support of an experienced guide can make all the difference.