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What role does a doula play during and after childbirth?

Doula
A doula’s role is to offer non-medical support to a woman during childbirth.

There is so much to think about when you’re having a new baby. From the name to the nursery, you have a multitude of choices to make before the big day.

One of the biggest choices you will make is who to have with you in the delivery room. Though moms-to-be often want their partner, a family member, or a friend beside them in the delivery room, many women also choose to enlist the services of a doula.

What is a doula?

A doula is someone trained to support a woman through labor. The goal of a doula is to help women and their families achieve the childbirth experiences they envision. According to DONA International (a doula organization) doulas are trained, experienced professionals who provide continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to mothers before, during, and after childbirth. Doulas view their role as nurturing and protecting a woman’s memory of the birth experience.

The word “doula” is of Greek origin, and the profession has a longstanding history. Before the field of obstetrics was established, it was common for a doula to provide continuous support to a woman during labor. That person also assisted the mother after delivery as she bonded with her baby and recovered from delivery.

After the advent of obstetrics, women began giving birth in hospitals. The support person was replaced by hospital nurses and sometimes family members. Many women now view childbirth not only as a medical event but also as a life experience. Here at UT Southwestern in Dallas, we’ve seen an influx of women who choose to involve doulas in their birth plans for that very reason.

Differences between doulas, midwives, and nurses

It is important to understand the variety of roles of childbirth support professionals.

  • nurse has a degree in nursing and is medically trained. A nurse works with your physician, administers medications, monitors your baby, and monitors your labor process.
  • midwife is a nurse who is medically trained in childbirth. A midwife will monitor your labor process, help you make decisions about the use of medications, and deliver your baby.
  • doula is trained in labor support. Doulas are not medically trained. They cannot administer medications, monitor your baby, monitor your labor, deliver your baby, or have any input in medical decisions.

Doulas should go through a training and certification process. Doula training through an organization usually entails reading, attending childbirth classes, attending a doula workshop, and attending a few births. But be careful – not everyone who calls himself or herself a doula has been certified! If you’re going to use a doula, make sure he or she is certified.

Benefits of using a doula

If you do not have a willing partner, friend, or family member to support you during labor, or you know your significant other will not be available, a doula may be a good option for you.

Some data suggests that continuous labor support is beneficial to the mother and the baby. According to the World Health Organization, continuous delivery support can decrease the duration of labor, decrease the amount of pain medication used by the mother during delivery, lead to fewer operative births, and nurture a more satisfying birth experience.

How our Ob/Gyn doctors view doulas

While doulas are not medical professionals, they can be helpful during childbirth. A doula can teach you alternative techniques to avoid pain medications if natural birth is important to you. These methods may include breathing techniques, birthing balls, massage, and applying cold towels to your head.

After birth, a doula can help your family adjust to having a baby at home. Your doula can help with breastfeeding, infant bonding, babywearing, massage, and tasks around the house.

How to involve a doula in your birth plan

Invite your doula to come to one or two of your prenatal care visits. You do not want your doula and physician to meet for the first time in the delivery room – that would be quite awkward!

Introducing your doula and physician will give them a chance to discuss with you the details of your birth plan. The physician will be clear about his or her role in your labor and what role your doula can play in the process. Be prepared for your physician to say that all medical decision-making will be done by the physician and you, and will not include the doula. The role of the doula is not to provide medical advice, but rather to support you as you give birth to your baby.

We want you to experience childbirth the way you want to. Be candid with your physician; let him or her know if you would like to use a doula.

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