How can a doula benefit you?
by Sheridan Ripley, HCHI
Up until the late 1800's women were attended to, by other women during their births. They may have been midwives or just a caring neighbor or family member. A basic belief was shared that a woman was easily able to give birth, and the same woman would stay with the mom throughout her birthing time, giving her physical and emotional support, continuing for a time afterward to make sure that the mom and baby were doing well. This continuity helped the mothers feel safe and supported in this transition from pregnancy to motherhood.
The thing that is missing from many births today is that continuity of a caring woman. It is expected that the dad can be the "coach", but the dads often do not know what to expect any more than the moms do. They aren't usually educated in what the typical interventions are in a hospital birth and the pros and cons of them. It is hard for them to see their partner uncomfortable and stay calm and confident. Dads often just don't have the same kind of touch a woman would have.
Typically parents are going into an unfamiliar environment (a hospital) to have a baby, where the birth is sadly treated like a medical event instead of a life changing spiritual event. Mom is treated like a patient and is frequently forced into the hospitals and care providers routines, procedures and timelines. It is often an unknown of who will even be there when the baby is born. which Dr. will be on call, etc. The moms hope for a nice nurse (knowing the OB will just be there to "catch" the baby) to guide them, but even if they get a great nurse whom they develop a great rapport with, she has other responsibilities and patients to care for and she might have to leave because her shift is over, regardless of if her shift ends right at a crucial part of the birth.
A doula fulfills this role of being a consistent, caring, supportive person during a family's transition from pregnancy to parenthood. She can help translate medical talk, reminding the parents of the pros and cons and natural alternatives of suggested interventions, reminding them of what they desired in their birth plan. Then the doula steps back and lets them decide what is best for them, continuing to support them with whatever they choose. A doula stays with the mom throughout the birth suggesting positional changes, giving massages, making sure she stays hydrated, empties her bladder frequently and offering emotional and other physical support. The doula continues to stay for about 1-2 hours after the baby is born to help in whatever way she can; offering breastfeeding support, getting nourishment for the mom and dad, taking pictures. If the baby needs to go to the NICU, the dad is able to go with the baby and the mom is able to have a caring supportive person with her during this difficult separation.
The main purpose of a doula is to support the mom and dad in whatever way they need during and immediately after the birth, while remaining a calm and positive presence. Depending on the couple or the situation, the doula may take more of a guiding position, where she helps the dad help the mom; if he is unsure in a situation she can offer him encouragement and give him ideas of what to do. The dad and doula make a great team, working together in supporting the mom. I was in a situation where the dad was sick with a bad cold during the birth and I took much more of an active roll, while he sat in a chair watching and offering verbal support. It was nice for him to know she was taken care of, with me giving her massages, helping her get to the bathroom, getting them both drinks and snacks (I felt like I was HIS doula too). This helped make the birth better for both of them.
My experiences have shown and studies confirm that everyone benefits when a doula attends a birth. The dad feels a weight lifted from his shoulders, he feels supported in his role and can relax and enjoy the birth more. The mothers benefit physically by having a decrease in cesarean births, decrease in some interventions such as Pitocin augmentations and the length of their labors are shorter. The mothers also benefit emotionally. Studies show that mothers with doulas are more satisfied with their births than mothers without doulas. The babies benefit as studies have shown that mothers that have doulas are more likely to still be breastfeeding at 6 weeks and these mothers bond more quickly with their babies.
I think that when every birthing mother who wants a doula, has one at her birth, the childbirth climate in the USA will change for the better. Mothers will be empowered to make their own choices regarding their birth. Dads will better know how to support their partner as they make this special journey together of the birth of their baby. Birth will become a more positive experience that women look forward to with anticipation and joy.
Sheridan Ripley is the mother of 3 boys (1 cesarean and 2 VBAC births, both using hypnosis) a Hypnobabies Instructor and Doula. She is a passionate Lactivist and VBACtivist.
Visit her websites at www.enjoybirth.com and www.pregnancybirthandbabies.com