What is a doula?
Doula (noun): A non-medical person who provides informational, emotional, and physical support during pregnancy, birth, and in the postpartum period.
Your doula knows a lot about pregnancy, birth and postpartum and will share that knowledge with you in texts, phone calls, emails, prenatal and postpartum meetings and throughout your birth experience. Informational support can be related to things you are experiencing as well as a variety of topics that are common the process of growing and birthing a human. You may receive information on signs and symptoms of labor, what to do if your water breaks, the benefits and risks of elective induction, common labor medications, comfort measures, benefits of movement, options for cesarean birth, and even information about your chosen birth location, or what you can expect in working with your chosen care provider. Often, a doula will individualize the information they are sharing to meet you and your partner’s needs.
In addition to all the information they’re sharing, your doula can provide recommendations for local and online resources and providers who support pregnant, birthing, and postpartum folks. Having a network of support surrounding you in pregnancy or in the postpartum can be incredibly beneficial in improving body discomforts and mental wellbeing. Those resources may include midwives, OB/GYNs, chiropractors, acupuncturists, pelvic floor physical therapists, mental health specialists, massage therapists, prenatal yoga classes, childbirth education instructors, lactation support and peer support groups.
The nature of the work that we do as doulas often creates a special connection with the birthing people and families that we work with. Emotional support is woven into those relationships and often includes things like, validating your feelings, holding space for all the emotions you may feel, and providing reassurance, tools or comfort if needed and welcomed. It also includes the work we do to help people feel safe and supported in their birth environment. Some partners are very comfortable in the birth space, and some find relief in looking to their doula to affirm that whatever is happening is part of the process. When plans shift course, or the unexpected happens, your doula can be the person that compassionately creates the space you and your partner need to process the experience and supports you as you make the decisions that are best for you in the moment.
One of the things doulas are known best for is our physical support, which we can provide, or we can share our skills with your partner so they can support you in this way. Providing comfort measures like the double hip squeeze, counterpressure and other hands-on techniques are an excellent tool in helping birthing people manage the sensations of labor and in letting go once they subside. In the early stages of labor, your partner may be able to provide all the support you are needing. As labor progresses, it is common for partner and doula to take turns and then to provide support at the same time, if that is beneficial for you.
Giving birth is hard work. Being energized can help labor progress and enhance your birth and postpartum experience. Keeping you nourished and hydrated during birth and afterwards is one way to do that. We can make suggestions for ways you can incorporate rest or support you as your close your eyes and get bits of rest in the time between squeezes. It’s likely that we are also keeping track of things like when you last used the bathroom, position changes and suggesting movement that will create space where the baby is. We are also keeping track of how your partner is doing and making suggestions for them to rest, eat and hydrate too!
Doulas can facilitate effective communication with care providers and family, review your preferences for birth, provide insight on what it’s like to live with a newborn, help with breastfeeding, and offer tips for postpartum recovery. Working with a doula can help you identify and prepare for the birth you desire. You may feel more informed, confident, and satisfied with your experience.
The evidence on continuous birth support is clear – birthing people do benefit from it. Doulas bring a unique skillset into the birth space and remain objective and non-judgmental while supporting you, your partner, and your family. Our interest is in fully supporting you and your choices, in all the ways we can, even if they change.
Birthworker living in Wilmington, NC. Mama to four growing people. Happiest when outside, on my yoga mat, cooking in my kitchen or soaking up the snuggles.