Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Benefits of a Birth Doula

Today, I arranged for us to have a doula for the birth of our baby.  We were very fortunate to be able to get the same doula who helped us out when Sly was born. 

For anyone who's unsure whether a doula really makes much difference in labor, I have to tell you that it really does!  As I'll tell anyone who lets me blab on about it, having a doula last time was one of the best decisions I ever made!

A birth doula is specially trained to support a woman in labor.  In many cases, she has had children herself, and so knows just what you're going through.  She provides some much-needed emotional (and physical) support, suggests different laboring positions, provides a reassuring presence, and helps to ensure that the doctors or midwives continue to stick with the "birth plan".  Stastics show that having a doula shortens the length of labor (who wouldn't want that?!), and decreases the likelihood of c-sections and other interventions.

Once I had decided that I wanted a natural birth with Sly, I knew I needed a doula.  I think such a huge part of being mentally able to go through a natural birth is about having the focus and willpower to work through the pain.  Neither Tom nor I had any clue what that would entail, so I wanted someone there who could help coach me through it!  It seems especially helpful to have some extra help and knowledge in the room during a natural birth, but I'm sure a doula would be a benefit no matter what kind of birth a woman was planning (or not planning!).

We did have a midwife for Sly's birth (and will be doing the same for this next birth), but I had come to realize that they are there primarily in a healthcare role.  Unless you are having a home birth - where I assume there are different expectations for the midwife - her main role is just to make sure you and the baby are healthy and safe.  While I was laboring with Sly, the midwife would come in to check on things from time to time, but until it was time to push, she didn't stay in the room continuously.  I wanted someone who would be with me constantly, supporting me - and that's what a doula is for.

Our doula was awesome.  She stayed up with us all night (and would have stayed much longer, if the labor had kept going).  She suggested various positions I could try to help me be more comfortable, and joined Tom in supporting my weight when necessary.  Once I finally realized that sitting on the birth ball was the only position my body wanted to be in (for hours and hours), she sat right behind me the whole time, rubbing my lower back.  She helped me to stay calm and keep breathing well during each contraction.  When it began to feel as though my pelvis were ripping in two, she offered to gently squeeze the bones together during each contraction (this probably didn't really accomplish anything, but it felt a little better when she did it).  She understood just how huge this experience was for us, and participated in all the emotions proper to each turn of event.  Tom loved having her there too, because, he said, it "took some of the pressure off him."  When he needed to go get a cup of coffee or use the bathroom, he didn't have to feel like he was abandoning me in the room.  Rather than "taking over" what should have been Tom's role, she helped him to know what he could do at any given moment to best assist me.  And then after Sly was born, she took lots of pictures (which we got copies of later), and wrote up a very sweet birth story for him.

She really helped make the experience a positive one, and I just hope the second birth goes as well!


  1. I had a doula with my first and I wouldn't have one again. She was a big help, but she insisted that I use Lamaze breathing even though I knew it was making labor worse instead of helping. I'm also someone who prefers to labor with no one talking to me or touching me so my method of laboring conflicted with having a doula as a support person. When I was pregnant with my second child my midwife asked me if I was going to use a doula again [I had used her friend who needed to do three labors as part of her DONA certification with my first labor] she agreed with me that I didn't need a doula. I really attribute the doula to my needing pain meds near the end of my labor. I went completely natural (although I'm told the 2ccs of morphine I had with my first was nothing) with my second and third and had a much easier time laboring. I'm convinced the labors would have been harder with a doula. I guess the only real positive I had with the doula was I got some great pictures of the delivery. I'll never forget that she told my husband to nap while I was in labor. I was livid when I noticed during some very intense contractions that he was snoring loudly.

  2. Wow - sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience, Karen. I wonder if the problem was entirely that "a doula isn't right for you". Maybe the doula you ended up with was just not the best match with your personality? You also mention that she was still in training, so perhaps she just hadn't gotten the hang of reading your signals.

    I know the doula group that I use is very concerned with getting to know the woman and her needs for the labor. They meet with you at your home several weeks before to discuss your birth plan, what you think you'd like/not like a support person to do, what things make you comfortable/motivated, etc.

  3. I am doing a homebirth this time so my midwife will be filling the doula role, but if for some reason we had to deliver in the hospital, I would definitely consider having a doula. Mostly for her to talk to the medical staff so that my husband and I don't have to!

  4. That sounds like a great experience! And while I never thought we'd need a doula (I basically went in last time asking for IV meds and then an epidural asap lol), I guess reading what you described really describes the role my mom played during my labor with Matthew. She took a lot of the pressure off of Brian and allowed him to leave the room for five minutes without worrying. Brian asked that she come back when Noah is born, too, so he can have that support again. :) She also got great pictures of the birth. Totally amazing. It is so helpful to have another supportive person in the room during labor. I think it really makes a difference in the experience. :) Glad you get to use one again this time around.

  5. I talked to a doula before getting pregnant she said, i'm there to be by your side or ill wait outside the door with ice, im there for how ever you need me.- I thought that was awesome.

  6. DWIJA, you must understand that a doula does not act as YOUR voice. They are there to inform you of procedures. No one is suppose to speak for you or your husband about your medical care/labour/delivery.

  7. Wow - I *am* a doula I would never "insist" that a woman keep doing something that wasn't working for her! Sorry about your experience, Karen. Did you give her feedback as to what was and wasn't helpful? She should be open to criticism, since it would help her better support women in future.