Many people wonder what the purpose of a doula is.
“She’s not the one delivering the child,” the thinking goes. “She can’t perform any medical functions. If I have a doctor, midwife, partner, friend, and/or family member with me, what purpose does she serve? What is a doula?”
The word doula means “woman who serves” or “caregiver” in Greek. The presence of a doula calls on the tradition of women in a community—mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, and cousins—who care for the mother and support her through her journey. These women had wisdom that couldn’t be taught, that was passed down from generation to generation; modern-day doulas keep that tradition alive. So yes, it is a doula’s job to “just” be there, but theirs is a powerful presence for these five reasons.
1. Doulas are advocates.
Prior to your delivery, you and your doula will have discussed your birth plan. She will know what procedures you are ok with, what procedures you are willing to undergo in case of an emergency, and which procedures you want nothing to do with. While your doula can’t make any decisions for you, she can still be a firm but gentle voice, making your wishes known to your care provider when you are otherwise occupied.
2. Doulas provide support for your partner.
The average person doesn’t always know what to do during labor. The visible discomfort of a laboring mother can be overwhelming and may make your partner feel helpless. Your doula can coach your partner, friend, or family member in how to be most supportive of you. She can also provide respite to your partner, allowing them to use the bathroom, get a snack, or take a brief nap with the full knowledge that you will be well taken care of.
3. Doulas have a wealth of knowledge.
Doulas either receive training in the form of a formal certification program, through experience, or most commonly a combination of both. They know the phases and stages of labor, common medical interventions, and a whole host of comfort measures. This means they can talk you and/or your partner through what is going on with your body, help you make sense of any medical advice your care provider may be giving you, and ease the discomfort you’re feeling (and sometimes she can do all these things simultaneously).
4. Doulas have been proven to lower birth risks.
A doula’s presence can significantly reduce a laboring mother’s stress and anxiety level, which has a positive effect on their delivery. Studies have shown that births attended by doulas decrease the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of pitocin (a synthetic form of oxytocin used to induce labor) by 40% and requests for epidural by 60%.
5. Doulas provide constant support.
Your doula is there for you 100%. Whether you need her to massage your shoulders, apply counter-pressure in the small of your back, feed you ice chips, or just sit quietly beside you, your doula will be there with you every step of the way providing support in whatever form you need it.
A doula is definitely not meant to take the place of a partner, family member, or loved one, nor is she a substitute for a care provider—her place exists in the space between those two. She is what you need her to be. A coach. A shoulder to cry on. A hand to hold. An ear to listen. She waits at the ready for you to need her, so she can fulfill her purpose and “serve.”
To find a doula in your area you can search the Dona International, or the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) site.