As mothers and moms-to-be, there are many individuals that are trained to advocate for our prenatal, childbirth and postpartum health. But, how do you choose who should be on your team? Sure you’ve considered your obstetrician, pediatrician, midwife and partner. But doula’s can also be a tremendous support for a new mother - during pregnancy, throughout labor, and also in your postpartum care.
What Is a Doula?
The word “doula” is a Greek word meaning “woman’s servant.” According to DONA International, the world’s first, largest and leading doula certifying organization, “a doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”
Before birth, a doula can help the mother-to-be develop their birth plan by fielding questions about childbirth; understand the labor and delivery process; recognize what complications may arise in the 3rd trimester or during childbirth; or even just lend an ear to the voiced misgivings and anxiousness of the soon-to-be parents.
During birth, a doula can provide informational and emotional support. A doula cannot provide any type of medical care and, therefore, is NOT a substitute for a medical professional. However, during delivery, doulas are in constant and close proximity to the mother. They have the ability to offer comfort and pain-relief through breathing and relaxation techniques, massage, and laboring positions.
After baby arrives, a postpartum doula can help mom with the breastfeeding process, provide emotional support to ALL family members, answer any caretaking questions/concerns, and communicate with loved ones regarding helping the new mom and baby settle in. A doula will also make sure that the mother is receiving adequate rest, food, hydration and comfort – to the point where they may even step in to help with laundry, house work and errands.
Medical Certifications, Experience and Fees
Doulas are not required to obtain any certifications or licenses since, legally, they cannot offer you any medical or clinical guidance or perform medical services. However, many doulas choose to become certified by organizations like DONA International or the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association.
Each organization requires prospective doulas to enroll in specific workshops, classes and seminars, as well as acquire hands-on experience. When interviewing prospective doulas, it is very important to ask about their background (past job experience, training, licenses or certifications), request and reach out to referrals, discuss childbirth expectations, establish their availability and how communication with them works (phone, email, text, promptness of replies), what made them decide to become a doula or any other information you believe is pertinent to your family's lifestyle and your preferred birth plan.
Finally, discuss their fees. Pricing will vary based on their range of services and experience level, as well as the location you live in. Most insurance plans do not cover doula use, however, it does not hurt to call up your insurance company to ask.
If you receive benefits through Medicaid, know that some states provide reimbursement. However, please contact your administrator to discuss what may be covered. Additionally, some larger cities provide community doula services to low-income and at-risk women.
What CAN a Doula Do?
- Stay with the woman in labor as long as is permitted by the medical staff.
- Help communicate the family's preferences to medical staff.
- Provide physical support by giving the mother-to-be ideas for positions to ease childbirth pain and position/mobility alternatives to encourage labor progression. Doulas can also walk the woman through breathing and relaxation techniques and offer a comforting touch/massage or pinpoint pressure points.
- Work with a mother no matter what kind of medical intervention is needed like a C-section, epidural, induction, etc.
- Walk the mother-to-be through hospital hallways, help them utilize exercise balls for positional comfort, sit with them or in close proximity while in a tub or shower (physical and emotional support).
- Act as a cheerleader for the other parent-to-be. Also, while both the other parent and doula have a role in encouraging mother through the labor process, they can replace each if needed during a lengthy labor and delivery.
- Through patience and encouragement, create a safe space of comfort and understanding in the chaotic, stressful and emotionally charged environment.
- Provide the mother with creature comforts like blankets, cold compresses, warm or cold towels, and preferred music (relaxation or motivational).
What CAN’T a Doula Do?
- A doula does not take the place of medical or nursing staff members.
- A doula cannot perform and examination or execute clinical and medical tasks.
- A doula cannot fill the role of obstetricians and gynecologists.
- A doula cannot provide medical advice. They are there to empower and educate, so that a woman can make informed decisions.
- A doula cannot act as a voice for a woman and her partner without their input and/or consent.
Benefits of Using a Doula
Besides the benefit of adding a cheerleader to your childbirth squad, those who utilize the services of a doula are found to have a more positive childbirth experience, undergo shorter labor time, be less likely to use pain-relief medications and less likely to have a C-section.
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