The word doula is a Greek word that means "Women's Servant." Women have been serving other women in childbirth for centuries and have proven that this support from another woman has positive effects on the labor process.
"My husband (partner) is my left hand and my doula is my right." ~~from Doulas Making a Difference
A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical and informational support to the woman who is expecting, in labor or has recently given birth. The doula's role is help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience.
Most often the word "doula" is referring to the birth doula, or labor support companion, but there is also the Antepartum Doula and the Postpartum Doula. For the following information, the word "doula" will be referring to the Labor Doula. Doulas can also be called labor companions, labor support specialist, labor support professional, birth assistants or labor assistants.
Most doula and client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. During this time they establish a relationship that gives the mother complete freedom to ask questions, express fears and concerns, and take an active role in creating a birth plan. Most doulas make themselves available to the mother by phone to answer questions or explain any developments that may arise in pregnancy. Doulas do not provide any type of medical care. However, they are knowledgeable in the medical aspect of labor and delivery so they can help their clients get a better understanding of procedures and complications that may arise in late pregnancy or during delivery.
During delivery, doulas are in constant close proximity to the mothers at all times. They can provide comfort through pain relief techniques, such as breathing, relaxing, massage and laboring positions. Doulas also encourage participation from the partner and offer reassurance. A doula acts as a silent advocate for the mother, encouraging her in her desires for her birth. The goal of a doula is to help the mother have a positive and safe birth experience, whether the mother wants an un-medicated birth or is having a planned cesarean birth.
After the birth, many labor doulas will spend a short time helping mothers begin the breastfeeding process and enoucourage bonding between the new baby and family members.
Numerous studies have revealed the benefits to having a doula present during labor. A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, revealed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was used. When a doula was present, women were less likely to have pain relief medications administered, less likely to have a cesarean birth, and reported having a more positive childbirth experience1.
Other studies have shown that having a doula as part of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and the request for an epidural by 60%2.
Doula's often use the power of touch and massage to reduce stress and anxiety during labor. According to physicians Marshal Klaus and John Kennell, massage helps stimulate the production of natural oxytocin. The pituitary gland secretes natural oxytocin to the bloodstream which causes uterine contractions and also secretes it to the brain, which results in a feeling of well being, drowsiness and a raised pain threshold. Synthetic IV oxytocin can not cross into the blood stream and brain, so it increases contractions without the positive psychological effects of natural oxytocin.