what is a doula?

She was present when we needed her, and became almost invisible at just the right moment to give us space and enjoy the process as a couple. She was the emotional anchor that kept us present in the most transformative day of our lives. We are forever grateful"

Richard

New Father

The Greek word doula means woman caregiver.  We now use this word to describe either a birth doula or a postpartum doula.

A birth doula is a trained labor companion that provides the birthing person and partner (if applicable) continuous emotional support, physical comfort and help in receiving evidence based information and resources during the prenatal period, during the birth and just after childbirth. A birth doula understands that birth will be one of the most transformative times in your life, a time that will be remembered for the rest of your life and can effect you greatly.  A birth doula trusts your instincts to know what is best for you and your very unique and individual pregnancy and birth.  A birth doula plays a vital role during the prenatal months offering continuous emotional support and any resources you may need to plan for your dream birth.  A birth doula understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a person in labor.  She will stay by your side throughout the entire labor. She will provide continuous emotional support, physical comfort measures and assistance to you (the birthing person) in getting information needed to make the best decisions for your unique birth.  A birth doula can help facilitate communication between the laboring person, partner, anyone else attending the birth and the clinical care providers.  A birth doula perceives her role as one who nurtures and protects the memory of one’s birth story.

A postpartum doula offers a tremendous amount of emotional support to the entire family welcoming the new baby (or babies) home. This includes supporting siblings, grandparents, pets and anyone else in your unique family in this tender and exciting time of adjustment. A postpartum doula helps each parent to develop their own styles of nurturing and bonding with baby and helps you find coping skills that work best for each of you. A postpartum doula is a non-judgemental presence in your home who will offer you evidence based practices and then help you navigate what works best for your family and your individual needs. She will never insist that you care for your baby in any particular way. A postpartum doula will support in the birthing person’s physical recovery and give the birth person time to rest, shower and receive extremely important self-care. A postpartum doula will make sure everyone is properly nourished and hydrated and will help in making small, healthy meals. She will also do light house-keeping (such as dishes and the children’s laundry), and run errands. A postpartum doula will assist with nursing, bottle-feeding and/or pumping. A postpartum doula can teach you how to care for your newborn (e.g., swaddling, diapering, bathing, soothing, baby-wearing, sleeping) and help you find the ways that work best for each of you individually.  A postpartum doula will listen and support. She will offer any needed referrals and/or community support resources needed or wanted. A postpartum doula’s job is to work herself out of a job so that you feel empowered and confident as parents without her in your home.

The best evidence…

Birth Doula

The best evidence about the benefits of continuous support during labor from a person that was neither a member of the hospital staff nor someone in the birthing person’s social network and provided one-to-one supportive care (such as a birth doula) resulted in the following:

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
  • 28% decrease in the risk of C-section
  • 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

These results are from the most recent and largest systematic review of continuous labor support of over 15,000 birthing persons who participated in 21 randomized controlled trials.  (Hodnett and colleagues 2011)

Postpartum Doula

Due to the many, many studies showing that non-medical, non-judgmental support during the postpartum time is one of the biggest factors in determining “breast-feeding” success, confident parenting and a decrease in postpartum anxiety and/or depression in both parents, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently changed its recommendation to include more postpartum support and recognizes doula support as a beneficial part of a postpartum team.