Baby To-Do List:
- Get Pregnant
- Go see my Doctor or Midwife
- Hire a Doula...wait, what?
What's a doula? What does a doula do?
A doula is a birth professional who helps you prepare for your birth by being a source of informational support and act as an educator through the process. Birth doulas do not receive medical training, but some are certified* and have gone through doula training to help them better support the families they work with.
A doula will meet with you prenatally before your due date to help you develop a “birth plan”, based a lot about the medical care you plan to receive, along with your preferences about pain relief (including pain medications), vaginal and c-section options, other medical interventions, physical support, and who you want in the delivery room with you as your support person. Your doula will then accompany you to your chosen birth location and be your constant companion, providing physical, informational, and emotional support.
Most birth doulas also provide at least one postpartum visit, where they offer lactation support and a listening ear to help you talk through your postpartum and birth experience. A doula can also help you advocate for yourself so that you can achieve whatever goals you have for the birth of your baby. Basically, a birth doula is your BBF, “best birth friend!”
When you are pregnant, there is so much to learn--childbirth is different from anything else you do in life! Reading books and attending a childbirth education/childbirth class are wonderful ways to educate yourself, but when labor starts it can be hard to remember all of that good information and what your priorities are for the birth and sometimes even the birthing process. In part, this is caused by the hormones that fuel labor, since they cause the birthing person to enter an altered state of consciousness.
The change in mental awareness is great for surrendering to the process and blocking out distractions, but makes it difficult to think clearly or make decisions. Labor is truly one of the most vulnerable times for a person, so it's vital that they are surrounded by people they can trust to guide them through the birth process. This is where doulas really shine! They will have taken the time to get to know you throughout your pregnancy, know what you're wanting for your birth, and they will do what they can to help make that happen. A doula will provide continuous labor support and will be your encyclopedia, your cheerleader, your coach, and your friend and having doula support like that with you during your childbirth experience can make a world of difference!
The research about doulas is clear—having a doula and doula care present at your birth lowers your risk of having a low birth weight baby, reduces your risk of having birth complications, and increases the likelihood of a successful start to breastfeeding.1 Doulas have also been shown to shorten labor, reduce the risk of having an unplanned cesarean birth, and increase the birthing person's feelings of satisfaction after the delivery.2 A doula improves most aspects of birth and no adverse outcomes have been noticed by having a doula present at the delivery.
But isn't my doctor or midwife going to do that for me? Well, yes and no. The role of your healthcare provider will overlap some with a doula—they are both working to help you have your baby in whatever way you choose, but your doctor or midwife is the medical professional at the delivery. They are focused on the health and well-being of you and baby. They will be watching your vitals and tracking the progress of labor. Yes, they are going to give you information and support, but their primary focus is how you and baby are doing physically. Your doula's primary focus is going to be on helping you manage your pain and progress your labor, with whatever methods you discussed prenatally in previous trimesters. The ideal birth team would be to have your healthcare provider AND a doula, because they each fill a different role and both are equally important!
Some people have concerns about a doula trying to replace their husband or partner, but nothing could be further from the truth! A doula could never be what your partner is to you. The emotional connection between you and your husband or partner can not be replaced by anyone. Their presence at your birth will likely be more important to you than who your healthcare provider is or where you are delivering. They are simply irreplaceable! But sometimes life situations make it so our most treasured human can't be there at the moment of birth—maybe you're a military family or perhaps they travel for work—and if that's the case, then a doula will be especially important for you, but she will never be able to fill the shoes of someone so important to you.
So when you are making your baby to-do list, don't forget to add “hire a doula” to the checklist. And also look into postpartum doulas for your "fourth trimester" aka the postpartum period of time after giving birth, who are another wonderful addition to a childbirth plan!
*DONA International, CAPPA, and ICEA are the most well-known certifiying organizations for doulas. Each group has their own standards for their doulas work under.
- Gruber KJ, Cupito SH, Dobson CF. Impact of doulas on healthy birth outcomes. J Perinat Educ. 2013;22(1):49-58. doi:10.1891/1058-1243.22.1.49
- Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;7(7):CD003766. Published 2017 Jul 6. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6