A doula is a non-medical birth coach and companion who supports and guides a woman through childbirth. Doulas are similar to midwives but since they are not medical professionals, they cannot administer medication. Typically, doulas go through a one-year course that involves practical training before they are certified. Although doulas do not have a clinical role in the birthing process, they provide emotional support and practical advice that can help improve the overall experience.

To provide emotional support before, during and after delivery

Traditionally, the role of the doula was occupied by a female family member but modern doulas are trained in emotional support methods and coping techniques.  They will meet you before you go into labor so that they can get to know you and your partner. Recent research indicates that women benefit from the continuous presence and reassurance of a support individual during childbirth. They found that women who had this type of support were less likely to need forceps or vacuum extraction. They were also less likely to require a C-section as compared to women who did not receive this type of support.

To help you create a birth plan

A birth plan is important as it helps you make important decisions and prepare for your labor and delivery. If you are a first-time mum, you might have trouble deciding on what is important and what isn’t. This is where the experience and wisdom of a doula are invaluable – she can talk to you about your labor preferences and your choices of pain management during labor. You are likely to be focused on the delivery and you might not think of aftercare – if you would prefer to have your baby with you in your hospital room at all times or moved to the nursery for a while.

To assist with pain management

Doulas cannot prescribe pain medication but they can discuss your options with you, including alternatives to pain meds. If you chose to have an un-medicated, low-intervention birth, your doula will tell you what to expect and what methods of pain relief you can use. For instance, your doula may suggest a warm bath to reduce labor pains. Many hospitals and birthing centers have tubs in which you can soak during the first stage of labor. Researchers found that women who bathed in a warm tub bath for 1/2-2 hours had greater cervical dilation and experienced less pain than women who did not bathe. Similarly, your doula will be able to give you a heat pack massage and walk you through various relaxation techniques such as meditation.

To answer all your non-medical questions

In the same way that your ob-gyn is the best person to answer all your medical questions, your doula is the best person to answer all your non-medical questions. You may feel ashamed of your irrational fears and unsure if there’s something wrong with you but your doula will know and understand what you are going through. Many pregnant women get scared thinking that they may fall and harm their baby or even that their baby may hate them. A doula has experience dealing with the emotional upheaval of childbirth and will be there to reassure you every step of the way.

To help your partner assist you

Most husbands report feeling helpless and terrified when their wives are in labor. Unfortunately, this means that partners often don’t know what to do or say to reassure the mum-to-be.  Your doula can help your partner find his role – whether it’s reading to you or simply holding your hand through the contractions. Loving words of encouragement and affirmation will go a long way in helping you stay calm. Your doula will also advise him on things he should not say like “my hands are tired from massaging your back” or “this couch is so uncomfortable, I don’t think I can sleep on it” – it may surprise you, but this is not uncommon!

To act as a birth bouncer

After 18 hours of labor you’re ecstatic, but exhausted. The last thing you want to deal with is a whole host of people waiting to welcome the newest addition to the family. Your doula will tactfully deal with the excited mob and let them know that you need your rest. She can make sure that you only meet a few people at a time as and when you are able to manage it. Childbirth is also emotionally exhausting and you may not want to meet anyone at all for a while. In a situation like this, your doula can talk with your family and friends to reschedule their visit without ruffling any feathers.

To provide postpartum and breastfeeding support

During pregnancy, your hormone levels are constantly fluctuating and it takes a while for them to return to normal once your child is born.  Studies show that 1 in 9 women suffer from postpartum depression. Postpartum support plays a vital role in improving the well-being of both the mother and her child by helping women transition into motherhood. A doula will guide you through this process as well as help you make the right choices regarding breastfeeding.

How To Find The Right Doula

When choosing a doula, it is important to find someone who is skilled and available. When you go into labor, the last thing you need to hear is that your doula is busy and can’t attend to you. Motherhood Center’s newborn care specialists are highly skilled and experienced professionals who are easily accessible and always available whenever they are needed. Discuss your preferences with your doula to make sure that she is the right fit for you and your family. For instance, you might want a doula who will not only assist you, but also help your family through this transition.

According to What To Expect experts, new parents are often overwhelmed when they get home from the hospital. This leads to middle-of-the-night calls to doula agencies and/or family members for help and support. You can save yourself a whole lot of stress and anxiety by preparing for such a situation. Simply talk to your doula in advance and let her know that you may need her help for a few days when you get home.

This article was written by What to Expect.