Inspired by a similar article written this week by Kim James, ICCE, LCCE, BDT(DONA), on our sister blog, Science & Sensibility, today I present to you the critical differences between taking a childbirth class and hiring a doula. It's important to know that choosing one over the other does not fulfill both roles. Often, I will hear from doula clients that they did not feel the need to take childbirth classes because they hired a doula, thinking that the doula would fill in the gaps where and when knowledge was needed. Similarly, childbirth class students may reconsider the need for a doula once they have sat through classes, on the basis that they are more prepared for birth and do not need the extra support. The truth is, there is tremendous value in both. Let's take a look.
A childbirth class prepares you for birth by providing evidence-based information on the process of labor and birth. In other words, you will learn directly about birth in a childbirth class.
A doula prepares you for birth by providing evidence-based resources to find the information you need based on the questions you have. In other words, if you ask your doula to give you the run-down on the many different kinds of pain relief medications that can be used in labor, your doula will recommend the best book or website(s) for you to find that information.
A childbirth class will show and teach you many ways to find comfort in labor and birth.
A doula will accompany you in labor and birth to provide in-person comfort based on your needs and wishes, which are determined by you prior to and during labor.
A childbirth educator will provide you with the information and resources necessary for you to create a birth plan, and may also help review it with you.
A doula will want to know about your preferences for birth -- including your birth plan -- intimately. If asked for, a doula will give you resources to help you create your birth plan.
A childbirth class will teach you about what to expect immediately after baby isborn and in the first few weeks and months after birth.
A doula will be present with you immediately after birth to provide in-person support for the transitional needs, based on prenatal discussions on how you would like your doula to be involved. A doula also provides 1-2 follow-up home visits after birth to check in and offer any relevant resources that are requested.
A childbirth educator will teach you how to be an informed healthcare consumer by asking the right questions of your healthcare provider to get the answers you need to make informed decisions.
A doula will encourage you to ask questions of your healthcare provider to get the information you need.
As Kim describes in her article on Science & Sensibility, childbirth educators are the source of information whereas doulas are the guide to helping parents find that information. The reason for the distinction is, as she describes, "because [doulas] want parents to be their own experts. We want parents to own their knowledge, choices and values. We also want them to own the reasoning behind their choices." Childbirth educators, of course, want the same thing but the method for achieving it is different.
Parents who take childbirth classes in addition to hiring a doula will have a more extensive knowledge base, which can significantly enhance their use of a doula. Parents who hire a doula in addition to taking a childbirth class will have the added confidence and support from the presence of a trained birth professional throughout labor and birth.