It seems like the closer you get to birth, the more you hear the D word: doula. And since everyone's talking about them, you totally want one, of course. But...what's a doula? Jada Shapiro, co-director of Birth Day Presence, clues us in and gives us some insight on how a doula can provide extra emotional and physical support before, during and after labor.
Why would someone choose to use a doula during the birthing experience?
A doula provides extra emotional and physical support to the laboring woman and her partner. Studies show that if a woman is birthing with an OB, she can expect to see her doctor about 5 percent of the time and she may see her nurse about 25 percent of the time. So, couples are left alone for much of the birth experience. A doula is the only childbirth professional who stays continuously with the mother throughout her entire labor.
Doulas also free up a partner to have his/her own emotional experience and to just be there for the mom. Finally, studies show that doula care leads to a reduction in unnecessary cesarean births, reductions in postpartum depression, reductions in request for pain medications, and an increase in maternal satisfaction with the birth experience.
What services does a doula provide, from the most minimal relationship to the most in-depth offering?
Doulas provide pain relief techniques, massage, emotional and physical support, informational support, reassurance, and more to help the mother and her partner through the birth experience. Once a doula is hired, she is on-call 24-7 by phone and email from 36 weeks until birth. Usually, she comes to the mother's home at about 36 weeks for a prenatal meeting with the parent(s)-to-be about how she can best support them through the birth. She will join the family during labor when the mother requests her presence, and stay until about 1-2 hours after the birth, helping with breastfeeding and getting the family settled.
How does a doula complement the birth, rather than compete or conflict?
If you hire a doula who is following the correct standards and codes for doula practice according to DONA International (the organization which certifies our affiliated doulas), then she will not be competing or conflicting with your midwife or doctor in any way. A doula is non-clinical, and there to support the mother emotionally, physically and informationally. The doula complements the medical staff by providing the calm state and reassurance a women needs during labor. Many of the care providers we work with recommend a doula because it makes their job easier, and over the past decade, we have seen some of the formerly doula-resistant doctors begin to accept our role in labor.
What are some of the most important characteristics for a person to determine when choosing the right doula for their birth?
Chemistry between the mother and the doula is critical. Do you feel a good, strong connection? Can you imagine that person there with you during one of the most intimate times of your life? Does she make you feel safe and secure? Choosing a doula is partially about listening to your gut instincts, and partially about practical things like your budget, doula experience and personality type.
Are doulas just a luxury for ladies who lunch? Are there affordable options?
We believe that all pregnant women and families who want a doula should be able to work with one. Birth Day Presence provides a wide range of doulas, with fees starting at $300 for doulas-in-training. All doulas affiliated with Birth Day Presence take our incredible doula training, and some trainees just out of our program will volunteer their services to families in need. Insurance is starting to cover doula care as well.
There's a common perception that only "crunchy" gals use doulas. Does hiring a doula mean you have to have a home birth or can't have an epidural?
Absolutely not!! Our clients run the gamut from granola to glitz, and we are there to support women through whatever type of birth they want to have. Most births in New York City take place in the hospital, and most women have epidurals. But even if you are planning to have an epidural, you still have to be in labor before you can get one, or the anesthesiologist may be unavailable for 1-2 hours. What if the epidural doesn't totally work for you? These are all cases where having a doula could be critical.
Think of a doula as an extra helper. Even with pain medication in play, there will still be a lot of hard work ahead for you, from pushing the baby out, to managing any potential medical side effects, and helping once the baby comes out. And for those women who hope to avoid pain medication, a doula is so helpful in providing non-pharmacological pain-management techniques and encouragement.
Photography by ©Jada Shapiro, Birth Day Presence