Birth Doulas: The Lesser Known Reasons Why They’re A Good Idea
I am obviously biased. Let’s get that straight. I’m a Doula and wouldn’t be one if I thought they were useless. No, I think Doulas are pretty freaking great. But, often when we talk about why to hire a Doula, the benefits all start to sound the same and lose their meaning. Yeah, yeah, labor support, I get it. But what does that even mean? A lot of people think hiring a Doula just gets you someone to squeeze your hips and tell you what positions you should labor in (ugh… no… but I’ll get to that another day). A Doula is useful in so many other ways that are often less explored. So, here are my top reason’s a Doula is a good idea… that have nothing to do with being a hip squeezer.
A Doula = Prenatal and Postpartum Human Google. If you’re pregnant or have a new baby and are reading this, I almost guarantee you’ve already googled at least one of the million questions rattling through that brain. Unfortunately, what you usually wind up with is a whole lot of wasted time on mom boards with a million varied answers from people across the world. How do you know what’s applicable to you here? Imagine having someone at your fingertips who can either answer those questions from their knowledge or cut through the nonsense and direct you to a reliable source of information for the answer. You’d have your own prenatal and postpartum human google…AKA a Doula.
It’s possible you don’t have a choice of who the rest of your birth team is BUT a Doula is someone YOU chose to be with you. You’ve interviewed them, gotten a vibe from them and you know that they feel like someone you’d like to have around. If everyone else at your birth is a stranger at least you’ll know your Doula.
Your Doula might be the first person you’ve ever met who’s talked about birth in a positive way! Their trust in the process and experience being present at positive birth experiences, might help you shift your perspective about birth being scary and encourage you to start envisioning a positive experience for your birth!
Prenatal support. Most Doulas start supporting you from the moment you hire them. Now not only do you have your prenatal google at your fingertips, but you also have someone to ask your personal questions to when it’s not urgent enough to call your care provider (or who can tell you to call your care provider if it is urgent). You have someone to call after you get some distressing news and need to process it. You have someone who can help you explore your options when an unexpected situation arises. You have someone who wants to know about your wishes and hopes for your birth. Someone who will ask you questions about what you want and who can direct you to the information you need to learn to realize those wishes (or help you set more realistic wishes – if say, you want to birth in a pool of dolphins surrounded by glitter – sorry, not yet available here.) You have someone who you know is going to support you in labor, because they’ve been supporting you for months already.
A Doula can help your partner feel calm, confident and be more involved. DONA International put out a position paper about how dads and Doulas are a pretty awesome team. In it they state “If the father wants to provide physical comfort such as back massage, change of positions, and help his partner to stay focused during contractions, the doula can provide that guidance and make suggestions for what may work best.” Beyond showing your partner some hands on support methods, your Doula knows about the labor process, and what normal sounds, smells, reactions and emotions are. Unless your partner has been to births before, they likely don’t have that same level of confidence in what is normal. I can’t count the number of times a partner has looked at me with a question in their eye – “is she supposed to be making that sound?” – and with a calm and confident smile, are reassured and relieved.
CONTINUOUS support through labor. If you’ve read about Doulas you’ve probably read “they provide continuous labor support” which can sound like just one of those things that’s said so often you don’t even think about it. But slow down and think about the continuous part. If you’re birthing in the hospital it’s likely you’ll have more than one nurse, maybe a nursing student, maybe you’ll have one care provider you see throughout your labor, maybe two, maybe more. And for most of your labor these people will come and go. A Doula – bar special circumstances – does not come and go, once you’ve reached the point in labor when you really need them. They are a CONTINOUS, recognizable person who’s attention is all on you. They’re not doing anything except focusing on you – which allows them to see how you’re really doing.
They’re intuitive creatures who often know what you might need, before you do. Hot blanket? Extra pillow? Sip of water? Food? Trip to the loo? Position change? When a Doula is truly present with a birthing woman, they often pick up on subtle clues of what the birthing woman might need or want, before the woman can vocalize it. The woman is in “labor land” and not thinking about all the little things – which is a good thing. An experienced and intuitive Doula will have it covered so the woman and her partner can each stay where they belong; the woman in labor land and the partner by her side.
Your Doula will help you get back on track if you happen to lose your rhythm or quite frankly, lose your shit. At some point in your labor – you might – feel suddenly overwhelmed. A lot of women do and it’s often a normal part of the process. Imagine this: you’d found a rhythm rocking on your birth ball, breathing to a count, having your hips squeezed during surges and you were ROCKING this – but those last few surges were another world of intense and suddenly none of that seems like enough. The unhelpful mental chatter starts – “I can’t do this” “OMG, another one? That last one just ended!” “This is way more intense than I thought it would be” “I don’t want to do this anymore” – and you start to panic. But not to worry, your Doula has a keen eye for when a woman has lost her rhythm and needs help getting it back. Your Doula has seen this before and is quickly by your side with all the right words and suggestions. Before you know it, your back on that birth ball, rocking your rhythm again.
They remember things so you don’t have to. In your prenatal visits with your Doula or in your Prenatal Education classes, you might learn about what to expect in labor, some positions that might help if labor slows, what comfort measures might feel good, etc… But that’s a lot to remember when you’re quite literally bringing a human into the world. Your Doula knows these things like the back of her hand and can remind you when and if you actually need that information.
A calm and confident Doula is contagious. Your Doula knows you are so much stronger than you think you are. When you feel overwhelmed or unsure, you’ll have someone whose calm, confident energy will remind you what a warrior you are. Suddenly their confidence in you and the process of birth becomes your confidence in yourself.
Their support extends into the postpartum period and parenting – when the real journey starts. Let’s call it the fourth stage of labor – parenting. It lasts forever and unless you’re a natural magical unicorn among parents, you likely won’t know what you’re doing half the time. This is especially true when your baby is first born and you’re in the postpartum period. A Doula can help you with postpartum healing and emotional support, newborn care and feeding information and reassurance that you will be juuuuuuust fine at this whole “keep the tiny human alive” thing.
Doulas know their limits and will refer you to the right people when needed. So far I’ve really been tooting the Doula horn. But Doulas have limits, of course. Luckily they also have extensive knowledge about the resources available to women and families for the services that fall outside their scope and more importantly, when it may be time to call upon those resources.
I’m the first person who will say you don’t NEED a Doula – YOU are perfectly able to labor and birth, as you are right now, without a Doula by your side. I don’t think Doulas are somehow magical and can grant your birth wishes and make you have a one hour painless labor. I wish. Sorry. However, that doesn’t mean a Doula isn’t an immensely useful person to add to your team and can’t help you make the whole process a better experience. And for soooo many reasons beyond squeezing hips. So in conclusion – you don’t NEED a Doula, but hiring one is a pretty GOOD idea.
Did you have a Doula and love it? Leave a comment and tell us why!