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Preparing for birth and the role of a birth doula

Women have attended other women’s birth throughout the course of history and across cultures. Women have also supported other women, new mothers, in their recovery from childbirth. In a way, the concept of a doula is ancient.  However, the formal doula profession is relatively new.  It began to form in the 1970s and in 1992, the first certifying organization for doulas was founded.  

Today more and more parents are choosing to work with a birth doula also commonly referred to as a labor doula.  Are you thinking about hiring a doula but want to know more first?  

Birth Doula: an introduction

What is a birth doula?

A birth doula is a professional birth coach who begins her work with a birthing mother or couple usually while still in the pregnancy stages. She helps the birthing mother or couple gather information, review their goals for their birth, uncover fears and concerns, and design birth preferences that can help guide her/them in having the labor she/they desire.

What can a birth doula do for me?

A labor doula is there from the moment your earliest contractions begin; she will listen over the phone, share advice on coping through early labor, and be in touch with you as the day or night progresses. When contractions start to pick up (get more regular) and you need her physical presence, she will hop over to your home (or hospital if your doctor has asked you to come in for any reason) and start providing more physical and emotional support. Your doula will stay with you throughout your entire labor, helping you navigate the twists and turns, understand medical terms, making sure you are physically comfortable, and having all that you need to feel more at ease. A birth doula is also there for your partner, helping them to feel useful, and inspiring their own self care.

Are there different types of birth doulas?

Yes. There are many certifying bodies and many types of doulas. Usually a doula will study in-person for at least a full weekend with a mentor, and then home-study for many weeks. Most will schedule two prenatal sessions and some will offer more. Doulas can be very creative with offerings and packages! Some offer postpartum support and lactation support while others are mainly focused on pregnancy and labor needs. Some doulas have had children of their own before becoming a doula (they were inspired by their own birth experience) and others became doulas early on because of an interest in women’s health and politics. Doulas typically train and certify, and then go on to learn (or have already learned) more about massage, postpartum needs, lactation, sleep coaching, placenta arts, childbirth ed, pelvic floor health, and on and on. There is a doula for every birthing mom.

Are birth doulas the same thing as a midwife?

No, ma’am! A midwife is a medically trained person who can tend to the needs of birthing women in home or hospital. She can help the birthing mother deliver her baby safely, suture tears if needed, avoid and deal with hemorrhage, and resuscitate if needed. This is beyond the scope of a labor doula.

Is a birth doula still helpful if I have opted for an epidural or am having a planned or surprise cesarean birth?

Yes! Many doulas have experience with medicated births, whether or not they were planned that way. It’s important to find a doula who you connect with so share your concerns and wishes for an epidural and the reasons why during the interview process. The doula you are meant to hire is one who will listen and “get” you. During your labor, if you do choose that epidural when things get more intense, she will have all the physical and emotional tools handy to make your labor more comfortable (getting an epidural doesn’t take you out of labor and out of the birthing experience). A doula at a medicated or surgical birth can make the experience all the more comforting and humanized.

What type of questions do I ask when interviewing birth doulas?

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • What do you love about your job?
  • What types of training have you undertaken, what training are you taking in the next year or two?
  • Who is your back up, can they come to a prenatal session, how many births do you take per month, how many births have you ever missed?
  • How do you know when it’s time to come to the house or leave for the hospital?
  • What other resources should I know about for pregnancy and the postpartum so I can best prepare?

Ready to speak with a Doula?

Check out Afterthird and search for birth doulas.

This article was written by Erica Shane, AfterThird’s Community builder.  Erica has many years of experience working as a birth doula.