Six years and two children later, my husband still talks about the "adoula" we hired for the birth of our first child. It doesn't matter how many times I've corrected him, gently reminding him that it was "a doula," two words.
Clearly, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding doulas. Who they are and what they do remains a mystery to far too many.
Because doulas matter. From a medical standpoint, studies have shown that the simple act of having a doula with you during your labor can result in a shorter labor with fewer complications, a healthier baby, and less difficulty initiating breastfeeding.
So what exactly is a doula?
The word "doula" is Greek in origin, and literally means "woman who serves." There are two types of doulas; birth doulas who help women through the birth process, and postpartum doulas, who assist women during the postpartum period. Both provide support to expectant and new mothers in many capacities. Support from a doula is most often physical, emotional, and/or informational. When you hear the term doula, most people are referring to birth doulas.
For a better idea of what a doula is, check out the new site This is What A Doula Looks Like. The website was put together by Gina, a VBACtivist who frequently writes about birth at her blog The Feminist Breeder and is home to tons of photos and descriptions of a diverse group of real-life women who serve as doulas.
Who should hire a doula?
I hear the question over and over again. Pregnant women repeatedly ask what a doula is and if hiring one is really necessary. Often, they don't want to spend the extra money on something that they really don't need. But the truth is, every pregnant woman should at least consider hiring a doula. If you know that you'll be having a c-section, a doula may be less of a necessity, (though it never hurts to have someone there specifically to advocate on your behalf).
And for any woman who is planning to have a hospital birth with minimal or no intervention, a doula is an absolute necessity!!!
Why is a doula so important if you want to have a natural birth in a hospital?
• Because your husband/partner may very likely faint or vomit at the sight of blood, amniotic fluid, or a head emerging from your vagina. A doula will remain calmly at your side.
• Because said partner will look at you like a deer in headlights if you scream for an epidural. A doula will suggest checking your dilation and remind you why you wanted to avoid an epidural in the first place.
• Because a doula’s presence tells the doctors and nurses that you mean business. You’re not “trying” to have a natural birth; you actually know what you have to do (and what you have to avoid) in order to make it happen.
• Because the nurses have other patients and will not provide much assistance or support. Labor and delivery nurses are used to caring for women who are lying flat on their backs with an epidural. A doula will know a lot more about natural pain relief measures and will be more likely to suggest alternate positions.
• Because a doula works for you. The doctor and the nurses work for the hospital and the insurance company.
• Because a doula has been through labor before. Most doulas have experienced labor themselves, and have helped many other women go through it as well. A doula understands the process of natural birth better than most doctors.
• Because if you show your insurance company how much money they’ll save when a doula helps you to avoid a c-section, they just might foot the bill for her.
Where can I find a doula locally?
To learn more about doulas, or to find a doula near you, there are several websites you can visit. Dona International is an excellent resource, as is the more local organization Doulas of Greater St. Louis. Sometimes you can also get word-of-mouth referrals by attending local groups for new and expectant mothers such as La Leche League or Friends of Missouri Midwives.
Many women find that they like to interview several doulas because they "click" with some better than others. Some doulas charge a set fee, while others may be willing to negotiate or even barter based on your financial needs. Hiring a doula may require laying out some additional cash, but it is a worthwhile investment that you won't regret.