A doula is a woman who provides physical and emotional support to a woman before, during and after childbirth. The Greek word doula means “servant-woman” or “slave,” and often referred to the most important female servant in an ancient Grecian household, who likely assisted the lady of the house in labor. A doula is not meant to replace or supplant a husband or birth partner, but only to provide the birthing mother with an additional source of physical, emotional and educational support. Birthing doulas specialize in labor support, while postpartum doulas support the mother, child and family. Birthing doulas pay close attention to the mother’s needs, advocate for her and use techniques to help alleviate the emotional and physical stress of labor.
In addition to emotional support, doulas educate pregnant women on proper nutrition and exercise during pregnancy, as well as labor and pain coping techniques. They help the pregnant mother formulate a birth plan, or the plan of how she would like her labor to go. During labor, doulas are there to explain medical procedures and helpful positions for labor and delivery, massage the mother to help with pain management and encourage the father or birth partner in ways to support the mother.
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The time-honored tradition of the doula suggests that her assistance truly makes labor a better experience for most who utilize her services. Doula advocates claim that as a whole, the birth experience is more satisfying for the birth mother who chooses to use a doula. They believe it is proven that overall, doula assisted births have shorter labor durations, with fewer complications and medical interventions. Birth mothers have less need for pain medication and shorter hospital stays, and breastfeeding is more successful. Doulas do not make medical decisions or perform medical tasks or exams, and they will not intervene during the birth process.
Using a doula is a very personal decision. If your birthing partner is clueless about what to do during labor, or you just want someone with wisdom about the birthing process in your corner, a doula may be a good idea. Look for a doula that is certified by a major doula organization such as Doula International or the National Association of Childbirth Assistants.
You can hire a doula privately or through your hospital, if it employs them. The cost to hire a doula ranges from 200-800 US dollars (USD), though some will barter or work on a sliding scale. There are volunteers in most communities who will work pro-bono if you are in need. Some doulas provide free assistance to military wives who are facing delivery without their deployed husbands. As many women who have experienced it know, childbirth is hard enough as it is — having a doula can make it a much more bearable and satisfying experience.