The Thought of Being Alone During Labor is Scary

The hospital where I plan to give birth has a great reputation, but it's a very busy place. I’ve heard that the nurses are in and out of the room a lot, but that for the most part you’re on your own. We've taken classes and feel pretty well prepared, but the thought of being alone during labor is scary. Any suggestions?

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You might want to consider having a doula, or labor assistant, with you for your birth. A doula is a woman who is trained and experienced in providing emotional and physical support to women and their partners in labor. Doulas stay with you continuously throughout the labor, offering comfort, keeping you informed about what's going on, letting you know what your options are and generally helping you stay confident and reassured.

They are very knowledgeable about ways to help you cope with the pain of labor by using massage, hot and cold packs, positioning, guidance with breathing techniques, and many other ways to help you work with your body and your labor effectively. Doulas do not give medical advice nor perform medical tasks.

Generally you meet with your doula ahead of time so you can get to know each other and she can learn your preferences for birth. She then joins you in labor, and stays with you throughout the entire process, until after the baby is born, all after-birth procedures are completed, you've had a chance to nurse the baby and are comfortable and settled. Most doulas also meet with you for a postpartum visit, to go over the birth and talk about life with a newborn.

There have been a number of good, scientific research studies about the impact of doula support in labor. Doula-supported mothers use less pain medication, need fewer medical interventions (including cesarean sections), have less postpartum depression and increased success with breastfeeding. For both mothers and fathers, there is increased satisfaction with the birth experience. These remarkable results are probably attributable to reduced stress as well as the increased physical and emotional comfort for the mother.

Some couples worry that having a doula at the birth would take away from the father's role as the primary support person. In fact, it's just the opposite. Research on fathers' participation in labor shows that when doulas are present, fathers actually participate more effectively -- staying closer, touching more and being more helpful and supportive. This is because having the doula there is comforting to the dad as well as the mom, relieving the burden some dads feel about being totally responsible for their partner's comfort and well being.

To find a doula, check with your local hospitals and birth centers, obstetrician and midwife offices for referrals. Or go to the doula locator services of the national organizations: DONA (Doulas of North America) can be reached at 801-756-7331. ALACE (Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators) can be reached at 617-441-2500. Lamaze International's number is (800)368-4404.

When you find a doula, ask what kind of training and experience she has, her backup arrangements, her availability for questions and phone support before and after the birth and, of course, her fees. You want to choose someone you feel immediately comfortable with, who supports your choices for birth and who has the knowledge and expertise to help you achieve the birth experience you want.

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