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What is a Doula?

Are you expecting a baby and feeling overwhelmed by the idea of childbirth? Many parents feel anxious about the birthing process and are searching for ways to make it as comfortable and stress-free as possible. One option that many are turning to is hiring a doula. In this article, we'll explore the role of a doula and the benefits they can provide to expectant parents.

Support in Labor

If you ask the average young person what they think of childbirth, they just might use one of the following words─scary, painful, or stressful. In part due to movies and media presenting childbirth as a terrifying, fast-paced event filled with screams and panic, and to our society making childbirth a taboo and off-limits discussion, both the fear of the unknown and a false narrative have encouraged the next generation to view birth as an intimidating, potentially dehumanizing experience.

However, birth was not always this way. In generations past, a pregnant person was not treated as a patient with a problem or diagnosis, expected to endure labor in a hospital room, far from home and family. Traditionally, a person in labor was often supported by family members or companions who would offer encouragement and support during the labor, as well as the immediate postpartum period. Birth was not always so individualistic, but was once a community experience.

The presence of doulas in today’s birth environment is to return to those traditional times, were experienced non-medical individual's can support a pregnant person. A birth doula is a labor supporter, an expectant person's companion present to provide emotional and physical support during the labor and birth process. As a member of the birthing support team, the doula also helps birthing persons and their partners and families in preparing for labor, making informed decisions, and recovering from the birth process.

Connecting With a Doula

Doulas have the valuable opportunity to get to know their clients intimately over multiple prenatal meetings and ongoing communication. Throughout this process, doulas purposefully identify what is most important to a client for a fulfilling and special birth experience. This may include helping a client determine their preferences and concerns about birth and even making a “birth plan” to use as a guide for labor. The doula also works to support the birthing person’s partner and keep the partner involved and central in the labor experience, whether it is suggesting ways a partner can assist during labor, or alleviating a partner’s fears prior to labor by offering resources or information as needed.

As a vital member of the support team, a doula is responsible for advocating for the birthing person, making sure their questions are answered, and helping them identify concerns that might have otherwise gone unaddressed. A doula does not give medical advice and does not make any decisions for the client, but helps their client gather the information needed to make an informed decision. The doula maintains and protects the privacy and confidentiality of each of their clients and encourages clients to express themselves throughout the process.

Comfort Measures in Labor

A doula can provide hands-on physical comfort measures tailored to each birth person’s needs and desires. Support techniques include massage, positioning changes, breathing and relaxation techniques, hot and cold treatments, and comfort measures in order to make the delivery experience as comfortable, calm, and memorable as possible. There are many specialties a doula can expand their knowledge in and offer one-on-one to the birthing person, such as essential oils, hypnotherapy, rhythmic movement, and affirmations to name a few. Some doulas refer to it as their “tool bag”─their special collection of skills they have learned, curated, and refined over long careers. However, many doulas agree that the most important thing to bring to each birth is one’s heart and hands, accompanied by an open mind. A doula’s constant presence and support can make a foundational difference in the birth experience.

According to a study by the Journal of Perinatal Education, the presence of a doula has been shown to reduce the risk of cesarean births, instrumental vaginal births, need for Pitocin, and shorter periods of labor (Gruber, Cupito & Dobson, 2013). In addition, continuous support has been found to correspond with higher newborn Apgar scores and overall satisfaction of birthing persons regarding the birth process (Sauls, 2002). The reassurance that someone will be continually present to support them during labor─never leaving them unattended, unsupported, or unheard─can make a vast difference in the well-being and spirit of a parent, which can lead to better overall outcomes in the birth experience.

For questions about how a doula could be part of your birth at Long Beach Birth Center, connect with us.

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