Having a doula on your healthcare team can offer you special guidance and comfort during labor and childbirth. Here is more information about the doula's role, impact and credentials.
The Doula's Role
A labor doula is a woman who gives continuous physical, emotional and informational support during labor and childbirth and helps you make adjustments if unexpected demands or complications arise. A doula usually meets with you before labor to discuss your concerns and your preferences regarding the use of pain medication and to learn the role you both want your partner to play. Some partners prefer to be the primary support person or "coach," with the doula as nonmedical advisor, errand-runner and stand-in (if the partner needs a break). Others want to focus on providing love, affection and comfort to the mother and leave the role of coach to the doula.
The doula is a constant -- no breaks (unless you’re asleep), no shift changes, no clinical responsibilities or other women to care for. She understands what you're going through as she guides you in breathing techniques, positioning, massage and use of the bath, shower, birth ball, hot and cold packs and other comfort measures. One grateful father said, "I heaved a big sigh of relief when our doula walked in. I hadn't realized how much pressure I'd been feeling." A new mother said, "I don't know what we would have done without her."
The Doula's Impact
The assistance of a doula throughout labor has been proven in numerous scientific trials to improve both the physical and psychological well-being of the mother:
-- Doulas reduce a woman's need for pain medication by alleviating stress and the negative impact of high levels of stress hormones.
-- Studies have reported that in hospitals with high cesarean rates (above 25 percent), a doula's presence lowers the chances of a cesarean and the reates of other interventions. Women have shorter labors, less need for oxytocin to speed labor and fewer forceps, vacuum extraction and cesarean deliveries.
-- Women's satisfaction with their birth experiences, postpartum psychological state, success in breastfeeding and interactions with their newborns are improved.
-- Dads take fewer breaks, remain closer to the mother, touch her more and give her more support when doulas are around to relieve some of the stress and burden.