What is a Doula, and Do You Need One?
As soon as you announce that you are pregnant, people will start giving you advice. Some of this is welcome and helpful, and some is neither. One piece of advice you might get is, "You have to hire a doula!" If you're just entering the world of pregnancy and birth, you might have only a vague idea of what a doula is. So before you decide whether or not to heed this advice, let's talk about what a doula is.
Many people think the word "doula" is interchangeable with the word "midwife." These two professions actually provide distinctly different services. A midwife is a person trained to care for women throughout their pregnancies, and to attend women during their labors and catch their babies. Midwives monitor the mother and baby's physical health -- checking blood pressure, checking the baby's heart rate, measuring the mother's belly, etc. During labor the midwife might check the dilation of the mother's cervix (if the mother wants her to), and will most likely be the one to catch the baby when it is delivered. She will cut the baby's cord after a few minutes, assist in the delivery of the placenta, and make sure the mother and baby are still in good health after the delivery. A doula will do none of those things.
A doula does not do anything that is considered medical or clinical. She (usually, doulas are women, but not always) does not offer medical advice to her clients. Instead, she offers informational, emotional, and physical support to the pregnant woman and her partner, if she has a partner.
So that's the short answer to the question, "What is a doula." But why, as your friend might say, do you have to have a doula at your birth? This answer might surprise you coming from me, a doula in Albuquerque New Mexico, but I don't believe that you need a doula. I believe that you are completely capable of birthing your baby on your own. You are strong and you have intuition. I believe that if you have a partner, there is no better person to support you during this transition into parenthood. No one can bring you more comfort than the person with whom you have chosen to share your life. But there are some things that a doula does that can be very valuable.
As a doula, I have had education and experience in pregnancy, labor, and birth. I can provide you with evidence based research so that you can make your own informed decisions. And I can remind you that everything actually is your decision. During our prenatal appointments I can show you and your partner techniques to help with relaxation during labor and birth. I can help you think about your preferences for your birth, and remind you of those choices during labor. I will never speak for you, but I will do my best to remind you of your strong voice when it comes to your prenatal care and birth preferences. And I can walk with you as you navigate the things that might be causing fear or tension regarding your birth.
During your labor, I can remind you and your partner of the comfort measures we have practiced. I can help with the transition from home to hospital or birth center (if you choose to birth in one of those places; I also attend home births). I can help with counter pressure or massage, especially if your partner needs a break. I can get you or your partner water or food. I am there to think about all of these practical needs so you can focus on bringing your baby into the world. I will be there to listen to you if there are things you need to process. And I can be a consistent, safe presence for both parents during a time when things might be unpredictable.
Immediately after birth I can help provide boundaries for friends and family if you want to be alone with your new baby for a little while before welcoming visitors. I can provide assistance with breastfeeding, if you choose to nurse your baby. And I will be there a few days after the birth to check in and make sure you, your partner, and your baby are adjusting well to your new rhythm of life.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I offer as a doula is that I support your choices without judgment and without my own agenda. I am there to make sure that you and your partner are respected, listened to, and supported no matter your choices, and no matter the outcome of your birth. The only goals I have for your birth are your own goals.
Now that you know what a doula is, the question isn't do you need a doula, but do you want a doula? Does this sound like a valuable addition to your birth team?