What's a doula? How can she improve your birthing experience? An actual doula weighs in.
"Doula" is a Greek term for 'slave', which was appropriated to describe the women who lend themselves to serve birthing mothers. I use the term "birth coach," since most people understand what that means. I think every mom-to-be should explore the option of having a birth coach as part of her birth team, and here's why:
1. A doula is there to support the mom-to-be.
A doula "mothers the mother." She offers continuous support for the laboring mother. After attending so many births, these coaches have deep wisdom, comfort and encouragement to offer and they serve as liaisons between the doctors, nurses and your partner during the process. They serve as educators, advocates and cheerleaders for the laboring mother while keeping the family calm.
2. Doulas know what to coach you on.
The doula can coach the laboring mom in breathing, relaxation, movement and positioning. She also assists families in gathering information about the course of their labor. Labor support usually includes prenatal and postpartum meetings or home visits, 24-hour on-call support, massage and counter-pressure during labor, and help with positioning for the mother’s comfort. Not to mention photos of baby immediately after birth!
3. Doulas know how to make birth easier.
Birth coaches help facilitate an easier birth. In fact, having one present at your birth can cut your laboring time by 50 percent! When I gave birth I didn’t understand the value of having a birth coach present. I did, however, have four of the most wonderful staff present, as well as a midwife-in-training, since mine was the only birth at that time. According to Mothering the Mother, by Marshall Klaus, John Kennell and Phyllis Klaus, studies have shown that the physiological effects of continual support during labor reduces:
- chances of needing a c-section by 51 percent
- length of labor by 25 percent
- use of analgesia by 35 percent
- Pitocin augmentation by 40 percent
- epidural anesthesia use by 60 percent
- use of forceps and vacuum by 30 percent
Moms who work with doulas report greater satisfaction with childbirth, fewer incidences of postpartum depression, increased self-esteem, better mother-infant interaction and improved breastfeeding success. A birth coach will stay with you during your labor until baby is about an hour old, in addition to a few prenatal visits and one postnatal visit.
Birth coaching services can range from pro bono to $3,000. Most labor support coaches charge between $500 and $2,000, depending on experience and certification. You can get labor coach recommendations at maternity centers, ob-gyn offices, yoga studio community boards and via DONA International.
5. You have full control over who you pick, and why you pick them.
You want to make sure you feel a level of chemistry, comfort and safety with your coach, as she will accompany you during one of the most intimate and eventful experiences of your life. Whatever you do, go with your gut. If you meet a prospective coach and you’re not sure about her, keep looking. You can trust yourself on this one! Use the following questions to see if this person is right for you and your family:
- What inspired you to enter this field of work?
- What certifications do you hold?
- How long have you been a doula and how many births have you attended?
- What types of births have you attended—home birth, hospital, birth center?
- How do I get in touch with you when labor begins—are you always on call? When and where will you join me?
- If you are unavailable when I go into labor, do you have backups?
- What is your philosophy on childbirth? (Make sure your birth preferences are compatible with her practices and beliefs.)
- What techniques will you use to help me move through labor?
- How long will you stay with me after labor?
- What happens if I need a C-section?
- Do you provide postpartum services? Do you have experience helping nursing mothers?
- What’s your fee and refund policy? What does it cover?
For more info on labor support coaches/doulas, please check out DONA International, the certifying body for women who provide labor support, at www.dona.org.