Although the term is relatively new, the concept certainly isn’t! Women throughout history have understood how valuable it is to support new mothers and their families. A doula embodies this same physical and emotional support – during pregnancy, and birth, and into the postpartum period.
The role of a doula is different than your typical healthcare providers. Doulas don’t perform any medical tasks like taking blood pressure or checking heart rate. Instead, they focus on complementing your traditional prenatal care by “filling in the gaps” in a holistic, very personalized way. Some doulas work more in the field of birth, others center more on the postpartum time, and many do both.
Studies have consistently shown the benefits of continuous support to moms during childbirth. The presence of a doula can:
- Shorten the duration of labor
- Reduce the need for pain medication
- Reduce the risk of cesarean by 39%
- Lessen the need for medical interventions
In these studies, women who had doula support during labor were 35% more likely to rate their experience as positive.* These effects continue well into the postpartum period.
During your pregnancy, your doula will schedule a couple visits with you to talk about your plans for birth and beyond. She’s there to listen to any questions or concerns you might have about your pregnancy and your upcoming labor. She’ll want to know specifically how she can help you prepare for the birth and care of your baby.
She’ll want to know about your birth preferences, how you cope with stress and pain, and the movements and positions you might find most comforting in labor. When you need more information, she can offer you evidence-based resources. You can then feel confident that you’re making informed decisions for both you and your baby. She can also help you write up a birth plan that will include what’s most important to you.
Your doula is there for family members, too – especially to encourage and assist partners in their unique support role.
As your due date approaches, your doula will be “on call” for you. She’ll arrive at the decided time and place and will remain with you throughout your labor and birth. Because she understands the process, she can bring perspective and reassurance.
She’ll help to maintain the kind of environment you need and help you focus with breathing, relaxation, and other comforting techniques. She knows the movements and positions that will help move labor along. Whether you need counterpressure or a cool cloth, her job is to make sure you feel supported and cared for.
While respecting your maternity team, your doula will do her best to make sure your birth plan is honored. She’ll also advocate for the best outcome if a change in plan becomes necessary.
After your baby arrives, your doula will stay another 1-2 hours to make sure you’re comfortable and settled. If needed, she can help with your baby’s first feeding. Within the next 2 weeks, she’ll visit to see how you’re doing and to talk about your birth experience. Again, she can help with any questions or concerns that you or your family might have. And she can give you information and referrals for additional care and support, if needed.
The “Fourth Trimester”
Once you and baby are home, the most important thing is rest! Your body needs time to heal and recover, and your baby is adjusting to a whole new environment outside the womb. In fact, this is a huge time of transition for the entire family. Everything can feel off balance and even a little scary during this season. This is where a postpartum doula can really make a difference.
Ideally, your doula is hired in advance. Much like a birth doula, she’ll visit prenatally to help you make a “postpartum plan.” You’ll talk about meals, family visits, sibling care, and setting up your home for baby…among many other things. This is also when you’ll set up an initial schedule for doula services. Having a postpartum plan in place will be really helpful, especially when you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed.
And please…don’t run around cleaning up before she comes! Doulas prefer to arrive to a messy home, piled with laundry and dishes…and it’s a good sign that you’ve been taking it easy. When your doula walks in the door, she’ll want to hear how you’re doing – physically and emotionally…and she’ll listen with an understanding heart and an open mind. She’ll want to look at your beautiful baby and hear all about your birth experience. There might be a lot to process, but it’s important to know that you’re seen and heard. She can generally reassure you that what you’re experiencing is normal, but she’ll also encourage you to check in with your doctor if there are any concerns.
It’s no surprise that most of the attention these days will be on the new addition…as it should be! But maybe mom would like to take a nice long shower or get a moment to herself. Maybe an older sibling needs some special attention, too. This isn’t the easiest on fathers, either, and everyone’s a little short on sleep. A doula is happy to take care of things while Mom and Dad catch a nap, or better yet a good night’s sleep!
A postpartum doula will make sure you have a tall glass of water and a healthy snack while you’re feeding and snuggling your little one. She can help you with breastfeeding, washing and preparing bottles, diapering, and give you tips for sleep schedules and for soothing a fussy baby. She’ll get you caught up on laundry, wash the dishes, play with the toddler, and get a meal started.
These weeks seem to drag on forever…but they’re gone so quickly! The postpartum doula’s mission is to leave you feeling more confident in yourselves as parents and with healthy connections, so you’ll never feel alone in this journey.
* Article from 2017 Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews, “Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC64831