By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA) BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE
A birth doula is a trained professional who supports birthing parents and their families during their labor and birth. There is a lot of research about the benefits of having a doula at a birth – including greater overall satisfaction with the birth experience, less interventions, lower cesarean section rates and more. But there may be a perception among the general public (and journalists who write about doulas for consumer articles) that birth doulas are only helpful if a person is planning an unmedicated birth. This simply is not true. Doulas are for all families, regardless of their birthing intentions.
An Epidural Birth
If you are planning on getting an epidural during your labor, you can benefit from having a doula. The doula can help you to cope with labor pain before you are admitted to the hospital. The doula can help you advance your labor as far as possible before you decide to get an epidural. The doula can help you with comfort techniques while you are waiting for the anesthesiologist. The doula can assist you in continuing to promote your labor progress after you have received some pain relief and if, on the outside chance the epidural is not working effectively for you, the doula can help you to handle the pain using non-pharmacological pain coping techniques. Doulas help people who are birthing with an epidural.
A Planned Cesarean Birth
A doula can help you if you are having a planned cesarean birth. A doula can help you prenatally by assisting you in preparing a birth plan for your cesarean birth. They can help you to understand what you can expect during the procedure. A doula can come with you to the hospital and support you as you wait for your surgery to happen, and be waiting for you when you come out of the operating room with your new baby. In some hospitals, the doula can even go into the operating room with you and your partner and offer professional support during the procedure, including keeping you calm and helping you to connect with your baby while still in the OR. The doula can assist you with breastfeeding back in your room and offer information and suggestions for the best recovery possible once you are home. Doulas help people planning a cesarean birth.
An Unmedicated Birth
If you are planning an unmedicated birth, a doula can help you practice comfort and coping techniques in advance of your labor so you are prepared. They can support you during your labor, helping you to feel comfortable and reduce painful sensations with massage, position changes and coping skills. A doula can help you gather information about your choices as your labor unfolds and remind you of your birth plan. A doula can encourage you and normalize what you are experiencing. Doulas help people planning unmedicated births.
When Plans Change
Every person goes into their labor with their own individual plans for how they would like to labor and birth. Every person wants to have a safe and healthy birth and a healthy baby. Labor and birth sometimes unfold in different ways than a parent expected. A doula can help a person’s voice and wishes be heard. A doula can help when plans change. A doula can support their client in understanding all their options, accept when things need to deviate from their original intentions and feel confident when making choices as things come up unexpectedly. A doula is in your corner even when things don’t go as planned, offering unconditional support and unbiased information. A planned vaginal birth can become a cesarean. A hoped-for unmedicated birth might shift to one with an epidural. A wish for spontaneous labor may become an induction. Birth plans often change, but the support of your doula is a guaranteed constant.
Every Birth Deserves a Doula
With every article written by mainstream journalists about the increasing popularity of birth doulas and their attendance at births, the whole point of the doula is often missed. The public is left with the impression that doulas are only for unmedicated births. The truth is, all families can benefit from having a doula at their birth. The experience of an unmedicated birth, an epidural labor or even a planned cesarean can all be improved when a doula is part of the birth team. Consider having the support of a doula at your upcoming birth, regardless of what you are planning. Learn tips for finding a great doula, and search for a doula in your area at DONA.org or DoulaMatch.net.
Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA) BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE has been an active childbirth professional since 2004, teaching Lamaze classes and providing doula services to hundreds of couples through her private practice in Seattle, Washington. She also is a birth doula trainer and childbirth educator trainer. Sharon is a former co-leader of the International Cesarean Awareness Network’s (ICAN) Seattle Chapter, and a former board member of PALS Doulas and Past President of REACHE. Sharon has been the community manager and writer for Science & Sensibility, Lamaze International’s blog for birth professionals, since 2012. Learn more about Sharon at SharonMuza.com.
Photo credit: © J. Wasikowski, provided by Birthtastic