You may have heard about doulas from a friend, or read about them in books, but what do they actually do?
The term doula is a greek word which literally means “woman servant”. Nowadays, it has come to mean a woman who offers informational, physical, and emotional support through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.
In an age of busy labour wards, a doula stays by the mother’s side through shift changes . She provides unwavering support during this pivotal time of a mother’s life.
A doula can equip you with a better knowledge of what to expect and the choices available to you, but she does not assume a clinical role. That job remains firmly with midwives, doctors and nurses. But she can support and reassure you and your partner through labour, suggest positions that you might find more comfortable and fruitful, be an advocate of your wishes, as well as be a calm and constant presence by your side.
A postnatal doula provides respite to a family in their home, by helping around the house or looking after older children, providing encouragement with breastfeeding as well as emotional support. A little help goes a long way to empowering a new mother and her family as they adjust to baby’s arrival.
What are the benefits of hiring a birth doula?
The numbers don’t lie*:
- shortens first time labour by an average of 2 hours
- 50% reduction in the caesarean section rate
- 60% reduction in epidural requests
- 40% reduction in oxytocin use
- 30% reduction in pain medication use
- 40% reduction in forceps delivery
* Information obtained from Mothering the Mother by Klaus, Kennell & Klaus, 1993
As well as feeling more satisfied with their birth, mothers who use a doula also tend to be less anxious or depressed, are more confident in their ability to care for their baby, and a more likely to breastfeed.
For more about the research, see DONA’s position paper.