Today begins World Doula Week -- a time to recognize, celebrate, and spread the word about the critical role doulas play with families across the world. Lamaze recognizes the role of doulas as vital toward our own mission of advancing safe and healthy pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting.
Often, it is a lack of awareness about or misconception of doulas that keeps expectant parents from hiring one to support them in birth. As one of our contributions in celebrating this World Doula Week, we're clearing up for you the most common myths about doulas. We hope this information will help dispel any misinformation you may have been given and encourage you to consider a doula for your birth.
The Top 5 Myths About Doulas -- Cleared Up!
"A doula -- so that's like a midwife, right?"
I'm not sure why midwives and doulas are so often confused, but if I had to guess, it's likely because both are strong advocates for the normal, physiological process of birth. Doulas provide support -- physical and emotional -- and resources for expectant families. They typically meet with families one or two times prior to birth and then attend throughout labor, birth, and early postpartum. They do not perform any medical procedures (like starting IVs or cervical checks), nor do they provide any medical advice. I like to compare what a doula does to what a personal trainer or wedding planner does, but for birth, of course!
"Hiring a doula might hurt my partner's feelings. I don't want them to feel like they're being replaced."
The inherent myth in these statements is that a doula replaces a partner. While this is NOT at all true, it is important to address the underlying concerns. A doula's role is to support and enhance the role your partner wishes to play during your labor and birth. Many parents fear that hiring a doula will make their partner feel incompetent or displaced during birth. A doula works with you during prenatal meetings to better understand what kind of support is desired during birth and what you're seeking in a doula. Depending on your needs and wishes, a doula will either help empower and guide your partner to be the main support during your birth, or a doula will help your partner take on the role that he/she is most comfortable with. When you're interviewing potential doulas, ask for specifics about how they work with and support partners. Here are more questions to ask during doula interviews.
"I don't plan on having a natural birth, so I don't know why I'd want a doula."
If you truly do not want a doula, you don't have to have one! However, it may help to understand that doulas provide support for all kinds of births, whether in-home, in-hospital, epidural, without pain meds, cesarean, or OB or midwife attended. Perhaps this myth is best reworded as a question: "Why would I want a doula; how could she help me in labor and birth?" When you understand what a doula provides, you can then make an informed decision on whether to hire one.
"I'm hiring a doula to make sure I get the birth I want."
It is true that doulas have been scientifically shown to improve birth outcomes and reduce the need for pain medications, epidural, and other interventions. At the same time, no doula can promise a specific birth experience or outcome. You'll increase your chance of having the birth you want by hiring the best care provider (OB or midwife), having continuous labor and birth support (like that from a doula), becoming educated and informed about birth (like after taking an in-depth childbirth class), and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. The other common misconception implied in this myth is that a doula speaks to your care provider on your behalf during labor and birth. The role of a doula is to be an advocate for you by providing support, information, and resources to you so you can speak directly to your doctor or midwife. Speaking directly to your care provider would overstep a doula's role and could lead to your doula being removed (in the case of a hospital) from your birth.
"That would be weird to hire a stranger to come and see me give birth."
For some, the thought of hiring a doula feels like crossing a line in modesty and comfort level. So, in a way, this myth may not be a "myth" for everyone -- if inviting someone to your birth outside of your partner or family seems too intimate, that's ok. That said, it's important to understand that a doula spends time getting to know and forming a relationship with you and your partner/birth team prior to going into labor. By the time you give birth, your doula will no longer be a stranger. And, like medical staff, a doula is very familiar with and comfortable around people giving birth. She does not attend as a spectator, but as an active, professional support person who respects your need for privacy and modesty. Finally, even people who report initially feeling awkward about hiring a doula to attend their birth end up reporting that her presence was invaluable and there were no "weird" feelings during the labor and birth experience.
Would you add anything to these top five myths based on your own doubts or experience with having a doula? Share them with us in the comments!