The Doula: Who She is and How She Helps

"Doula" is Greek for "woman's servant." The term today has been adopted and changed a bit to mean someone who helps women in labor. She provides emotional support (caring words, encouragement), physical support (massage, gentle touch), and mental support (education) before and throughout labor and birth. She is well-educated about birth, natural pain-relief and comfort techniques, and how to make the laboring woman feel strong and in control of her body. Her calming presence during labor allows the parents to relax, knowing they have a caring friend who will not leave their side, and someone who will advocate for them throughout this new and often-times overwhelming event. She does not perform any medical tasks; her sole purpose is to be there for mom (and dad), and to make their birth experience as smooth and worry-free as possible.

When I was pregnant, I had a general idea about what a doula was, but I didn't feel like I needed one. None of our friends had had one, and I felt like Greg and I could do it on our own. Which we did, and it was amazing (see my birth story). BUT, looking back, I realize it could have been a lot better if we would have had that extra support-person. Greg was really busy while I was in labor, packing our bags, calling people to let them know this was the day, and dealing with hospital staff/procedures. Not to mention he was super nervous and--dare I say it--a little bit scared. I feel like it would have been a lot less hectic had a doula been there working with Greg to make sure everything got done and that I was being taken care of continuously (I spent a lot of time laboring by myself). Also, since we were only at the hospital for a few hours before Lucy's birth, we had the same nurse with us the whole time. Most of my friends, though, have spent many, many hours at the hospital and have had several different nurses who left them alone in the room so she could take care of other patients. One benefit of the doula is that she is always there, by mom's side.

There are also many very real, tangible, and actually quite astounding statistical benefits to having a doula. Studies have shown that doula supported women have:

Overall, a 25% decrease in the length of labor
50 % decrease in cesarean births
60 % decrease in epidurals
40 % decrease in the use of pitocin
30% decrease in the use of narcotics
30% decrease in the use of forceps*

Can you believe it?! I think that is just plain amazing.

Long-term, mothers with doulas breastfeed longer and with fewer problems, are less likely to suffer from post-partum depression, and in general have better feelings about themselves, their birth experience, and their new family. AND, their babies are more likely to have a greater appetite and fewer health problems at six weeks than their non-doula counterparts.**


*Mothering the Mother, How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by Marshall H. Klaus, John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus
**The Doula Book by Marshall H. Klaus, John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus