For millennia, women have been aiding and assisting other women with their pregnancies, labours, childbirths, and the immediate postpartum period. This unwavering support has proven to have a positive outcome on the process of both labor and birth. Having a strong support team inspires us to work through the physical and emotional barriers. It also lends us the courage to continue when the going gets tough – even when we hit that wall and don’t feel like moving through.
There are a range of knowledgeable professionals that can help a woman as she carries her baby and prepares for delivery. There are also many professionals and consultants who can help us through the labor process and all the challenges of the postpartum period. These professionals include; OB/GYNs, registered nurses, midwives, doulas, and lactation consultants. All these roles have an important place play in many women’s birth stories.
Doulas in particular have a very special role as supporters of pregnant women. In honour of World Doula Week that begins on March 22 every year, I would love to shine the light on these very distinctive birth supporters.
Who is a doula?
The word doula is a Greek word that literally means “woman’s servant.” Doulas are known to offer many kinds of comfort and encouragement throughout pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period. They offer emotional, physical, and informational support along with any other areas of expertise they specialise in (massage, aromatherapy, placenta encapsulation and breastfeeding support are just a few examples). Doulas are a support to the birthing family unit often alleviating stress from the birth partners in addition to the birthing mother.
Doulas don’t offer medical advice – that is the job of a midwife, nurse, or doctor – but what doulas can do is offer invaluable love, empathy, and emotional support when the going gets tough – especially in the throes of labor!
What are the benefits of a doula?
Having a doula present as part of the birth team during labor has numerous documented benefits. With the support of a doula during labor, women:
are less likely to use pain relief medications
are less likely to have a surgical caesarean delivery
are less likely to have an instrumental vaginal birth
are less likely to have a baby with a low 5-minute Apgar score
and tend to have shorter labors
…all of which can lead to more positive childbirth experiences with reduced risk of serious complications for both mother and child.
When women help women (and indeed when men help women as well – shout out to the few male doulas!) we co-create safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experiences.
What can doulas do?
While doulas are not legally allowed to offer medical advice, they are deeply knowledgeable about the process of pregnancy, labor, birth, and the postpartum period. In many cases they make themselves available to mothers and their families to answer questions and share their experiences.
Doulas usually recommend appropriate books, articles, websites and other resources. Doulas also often help draft birth plans, discuss a mother’s wishes for her labor, and also address any lingering fears or other concerns about the process of childbirth.
In many cases if they also give attentive follow-up care. This means that many doulas are also the first line of defence against some serious complications – especially when it comes to things like postpartum depression and other struggles. Doulas are diligent – keeping a watchful eye on the mothers and always ready to be the support that is seldom found elsewhere.
So a shout out to the doulas of the world. Our tireless birthing partners who are there to comfort, soothe, remind, uplift, and support all the pregnant and laboring women. We love Doulas, the world needs more!