by Julie Snyder
Doulas are advocates for the mom or the couple during the birthing process. They offer non-medical care. Your doula may provide emotional support, physical comfort or information, whether your birth takes place in a hospital, home, or birth center.
Most doulas have received training and certification, although some have not. Fewer than 10 percent have a medical background, yet many new moms who have used doulas say they feel empowered and describe their birth experience as wonderful.
The presence of a professional labor support person such as a doula can have a huge effect on the outcome of the birth. The combined results of six randomized controlled trials on birth support have shown:
• A 50 percent reduction in the number of necessary cesarean sections
• A 25 percent reduction in the length of labor
• A 40 percent reduction in the need for oxytocin/pitocin to stimulate a slowed birthing
• A 30 percent reduction in requests for pain medications, such as narcotics
• A 60 percent reduction in requests for epidural anesthesia
• A 30 percent reduction in the number of forceps deliveries
Your doula can suggest birthing positions and various pain management techniques that you might not already know. She can be present, supportive, attentive and encouraging.
You'll hire your doula before you go into labor and have an opportunity to build a relationship before delivery. Feeling emotionally supported and taken care of can translate into an easier birth.
A doula will not tell you what choices you should make. She can supply information when there are medical issues or decision to be made, offering you pros and cons of each suggestion made by your doctor. Because your doula has witnessed many births, she can offer a point of view, and act as an advocate and gatekeeper during your birth.
Your doula might help you identify of your priorities for the birth and attend a prenatal meeting with your doctor or midwife if desired. You'll be able to phone as necessary and can expect her to be on call beginning two weeks prior to your due date.
She can provide continuous emotional and physical support during active labor and birth throughout labor at home and at the hospital or birth center. Many doulas assist with breastfeeding immediately following the birth. You may have a postpartum visit or ongoing postpartum/breastfeeding support as needed, along with an extensive referral service. A doula may also:
✓ Help with transportation to the hospital and check in
✓ Help keep your birth plan on track
✓ Update family and friends during delivery
✓ Act as a labor couch
✓ Walk with you during labor
✓ Take pictures
Are several doulas are available in your area? Here are sample questions to ask as you make your choice: