What is a birth doula?
A birth doula is a trained professional for who offers informational, emotional and physical support throughout your pregnancy, labor, and birth. Doulas are not medically trained and do not perform any clinical tasks. As such, doulas are also not a replacement for a care provider such as a midwife or obstetrician. Doulas provide knowledge and resources as you explore your options for labor and birth and will assist you in creating a birth plan. Doulas can teach and provide you with comfort measures for pregnancy and labor, such as positioning, relaxation, visualization, and other pain coping techniques. Doulas provide a calm, caring presence and a familiar face during the uncertainties of birth, especially in cases where you do not know who will be on call when you give birth.
What services does a birth doula provide?
Everyone's birth package looks slightly different, so it's important to talk through the details with the doulas you interview and carefully read through their package description and contract. Typically once hired, birth doulas meet with the birthing person or couple several times throughout pregnancy to get to know them and their wishes for labor and birth. Your doula is available via phone, text and/or email when questions arise and is a great source of emotional and informational support throughout the many changes that take place during pregnancy.
Doulas are also a great referral source for local resources and typically have networked to create relationships with many providers in your area. Once your labor is established at home or the hospital, your doula will join you when you feel like you need additional support. The doula remains with the birthing person/couple throughout labor and birth, and typically until 1-2 hours after baby is born to help the family adjust to the immediate postpartum and assist with breastfeeding if that's one of the family's goals. Usually a birth doula will also have one postpartum follow-up visit in the client's home about 7-10 days after the birth to check in, make sure things are going well, assist with feeding if needed, and refer to any outside resources.
What are the benefits of a doula?
Doulas serve many purposes, but for me personally, the primary doula purpose is to have that constant support during labor and birth which can be full of unknowns. You typically won't know which nurse, resident, midwife, doctor, etc. will be on call when you give birth, and over the course of a longer labor and birth, these providers will change shifts so you may have multiple different nurses and midwives/doctors. I know, for me, I feel much safer and more secure knowing there will be at least one person beside me who knows me, my partner, and my wishes for birth.
Experienced doulas can also be very helpful since they are usually familiar with your birthing location's staff, procedures, and protocols and can help educate you in advance and also during birth when you have questions. Doulas work together with birth partners as a team to support the birthing person, and can tag in and out to offer continuous support while also taking care of personal needs such as eating, sleeping, and using the bathroom.
Doulas provide a key role of holding space for the birthing person, especially during a long and/or difficult labor and birth. They provide compassion, empathy, and unbiased support when difficult decisions have to be made and when things don't go according to plan. Doulas help remind you of your goals and priorities, but are completely nonjudgmental when things change.
You may see research or statistics that indicates the presence of a doula will lower your chance of having an epidural, cesarean, and/or other interventions, but I personally don't like to make that claim because sometimes those interventions are wanted and/or needed, and that's totally okay. It doesn't mean you have failed or your doula has failed - doulas are there to support you however your birth unfolds.
Your satisfaction with your birthing experience is usually more related to your involvement in the process and decision making than the outcome. To loosely quote January Harshe of Birth Without Fear, the goal of a doula is to make sure you know your options, that you feel supported, and are respected.
Looking for a birth doula? Join us for our next Meet the Doulas event or reach out to one of our member businesses directly to set up a consultation.
The Doulas of Iowa City blog contains guest posts by Doulas of Iowa City member businesses. We are excited to share with you about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and surrounding communities and to help you connect to fabulous local resources.