Monday, April 22, 2013

What is a Birth Doula and Why Should I Consider One?

A trained birth doula provides continuous emotional, physical and informational support to a birthing woman and her family.

Doula holding child

Many women and their partners wouldn’t think of heading into their birth without a doula as part of their team. The term “doula” (pronounced “doo-la”) comes from the ancient Greek language for “a woman who serves,” although nowadays both men and women fill the doula role.

A trained birth doula is hired by the mother (and her partner, if applicable) to provide continuous emotional, physical and informational support to a birthing woman and her family. Many research studies and reviews over the past few decades find that doula support during labor helps reduce interventions (including cesarean sections, forceps and vacuum deliveries), shortens the duration of labor, increases breastfeeding rates and raises overall birth satisfaction. You can use a doula whether you plan on giving birth in a hospital, a birth center or at home.

Before the Birth

If you are interested in having a doula support you at your birth, consider the resources at DoulaMatch.net, DONA International or the Puget Sound local doula organization PALS Doulas. You may find this list of questions to ask a doula to be useful. Interview several doulas to be sure you have found a good fit. Friends, family and your health care provider can also make suggestions.

Once a doula has been hired, she will meet with the family several times prior to labor to learn about the birth preferences of the mother and partner. The doula will ask about fears and concerns, share information, answer questions and help the family feel confident and positive about the upcoming birth. They will get to know each other and find out how the doula can best help make the birth a positive experience.

During Labor and Delivery

The birth doula will then join the clients in labor, offering comfort measures, providing emotional support for the partner as well as the laboring mother, and helping the client gather information and make decisions during the labor and birth. She will remain until a few hours after the baby is born and everyone is stable, then return for a postpartum visit or two in the days and weeks after birth, to help answer questions about feeding and newborn.

A mother can hire a doula at any point in her pregnancy, though she might find she can make best use of the doula’s knowledge if she selects one earlier on in her pregnancy. But no worries, if a mother makes a decision in the last month or weeks, there will still be a qualified doula available and ready to help.

The price of a doula can range from a few hundred dollars to $1,500 or more, based on years of experience, number of births attended, certification level and other factors. Financial factors should not prevent you from hiring a doula. Discuss your budget and needs and let each doula share how she can help you have a doula at your birth.

For families that meet income qualifications, Open Arms Perinatal Services offers free doulas in the Seattle area.

— By Sharon Muza, certified doula (DONA), BDT (DONA), LCCE, FACCE. To learn about becoming a doula, visit Bastyr's Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations.

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