If you are pregnant, imagine for a moment that you have your best friend, loving aunt, and wise mentor all wrapped up in one person by your side during your labor, birth and postpartum journey! That, my friend, is a doula!
The word "doula" comes from ancient Greek, meaning "Woman’s servant."
Today, a Birth Doula is someone who is trained and experienced in childbirth and who provides physical, emotional, and informational support to women and their partners during birth.
"A doula is the bridge that connects modern medicine with the time-honored traditions of our brilliant ancestors," says Bay Area doula Vijayalakshmi (Viji) Natarajan of Divine Journey Doula Services, "I have personally seen the beautiful way that unnecessary interventions can be avoided or outcomes can be modulated through the presence of a skilled doula. Birth can be returned to its right place of honor and joy, rather than fear and loss of control."
Clinical studies show that the presence of a birth doula tends to result in shorter overall length of labor with fewer complications. Women with doulas by their side report greater satisfaction and reduced negative feelings about their childbirth experience. In addition, research has shown that the presence of a doula helps women to have a more spontaneous vaginal delivery and they are less likely to deliver by cesarean. During the postpartum period, having a doula can help improve breastfeeding success, decrease postpartum depression, allow for greater maternal satisfaction with the birth experience, and have better mother-infant interaction. A wonderful book outlining these studies is "Mothering the Mother," Klaus MH, Kennell JH, Klaus PH,Addison Publishing Company, 1993.
"Having delivered babies for over 20 years, I now recommend doulas to all of my patients. They help to make the birthing experience a much richer one, " says Dr. Jan Rydfors, Assistant Clinical Professor at Stanford University Medical Center, founder of OB-on-the-GO and practitioner at Bay Area Fertility & Pregnancy Specialists. "Doulas are very supportive all throughout the labor process and help my patients find the inner energy reserve often needed at the end of a long labor."
So what does a birth doula do? A birth doula is trained to help support a woman to achieve her wishes for her birth experience. A doula does not take the place of the birth partner, medical staff or family. Instead she becomes part of the mother’s birthing team. A doula is often hired early in a woman’s pregnancy. Doulas will meet with her client a few times before the birth. If the client would like, meetings can be held with her birth partner and her medical care provider. The doula provides recommendations, answers questions, and helps the mother prepare for labor during the weeks leading up to her birth. Husbands or birth partners often say that the presence of a doula reduces the pressure to remember details learned during birth classes or from books, so they can participate at their own comfort level.
Dr. Rydfors agrees, saying "I have found husbands to also be very satisfied with the experience since the presence of a doula will allow them to relax more and be more involved in the labor and birth of their baby."
When the birth process starts the client contacts her doula and from that moment on the doula is available to provide continuous support to the birthing mother and her partner until the baby arrives. With the doula’s reassurance, continuous physical, emotional and informational support women often feel more confident about their ability to meet the challenges their labor brings. The doula can help the mother and her birthing partner reduce discomfort during labor, make the transition to the hospital, and discuss options as they unfold during the birth process.
A new mom best describes the central role played by a doula at her birth. "Hiring my doula, Jessica Berman of Stork and Sprout Doula Services, was a huge part of having such an overwhelmingly positive experience with my birth," says Sara Styles of Menlo Park, CA. "It was a twenty-four hour window of my life that I will never forget and don’t want to forget!"
By Mora Oommen, Executive Director, Blossom Birth Services, Palo Alto, CA. Blossom is a nonprofit organization providing Meet the Doula gatherings twice a month (1st Sunday at 11am and 2nd Friday at 7pm) a great way to learn more about doulas and meet a number of local doulas! Blossom's mission is to provide women with resources and services for a healthy, informed and confident pregnancy and parenting journey.