Giving birth is hard work. It is exhausting for the mother, her partner and their baby. It can also be an incredible experience to cherish forever. And more women are choosing an additional member of the “birth team” – the doula.
The word “doula” comes from a Greek word meaning “female helper.” For most of history, women had other women to help during labor and delivery. This is the idea behind a modern birth doula.
“Our birth doulas provide continuous support during labor to help families feel safe, calm and actively involved in the birth of their baby,” says Amy Walton, owner of Better Birth Now and a birth and postpartum doula.
[pullquote]“She was completely attentive to me at all times, anticipating contractions and helping in whatever way I wanted,” Ryder says. “She had the birth experience and woman’s intuition that was an asset to us as first time parents.[/pullquote]A doula is a non-medical professional who assists an expectant mother through pregnancy and birth. The doula provides information and advice during the birth planning process and comfort, support and advocacy during labor and immediately after the birth. Doulas provide resources on the labor and delivery options available to expectant families. They also offer suggestions for techniques to help couples work together and help the mother cope both physically and emotionally with childbirth, says Amy Townsend, owner of Little Ways Birthing Services and vice president of the Doula Association of Central Oklahoma and a doula.
Doulas use experience and expertise in childbirth to provide continuous care for the laboring mother and augment the support provided by a partner or other friends and family members.
“She will assist in setting a comfortable atmosphere, be a calming and constant presence, use positive affirmations for encouragement, gently remind the parents of their desires for this birth, suggest position changes conducive to the birthing situation, offer comfort techniques, as well as provide breaks for the partner and help with any siblings present,” says Michaela Ahmad of Serene Doula Services, president of the DACO and a doula who trained with DONA International, the oldest and largest doula association, according to its website.
Ashley Ryder, mother of two, recounts how, when she was past her due date with her daughter, her doula was available by phone to provide encouragement and coping mechanisms. Ryder’s doula also was a source of encouragement during the birth and first hours of her son’s life.
“She was completely attentive to me at all times, anticipating contractions and helping in whatever way I wanted,” Ryder says. “She had the birth experience and woman’s intuition that was an asset to us as first time parents.”
Ryder’s doula helped her and her husband prepare a birth plan and worked with hospital staff to increase the chances of the unmedicated, natural and memorable birth experience the Ryders wanted.
The use of doula services appears to gradually be on the rise, and doulas can be a valuable member of the “obstetrical team,” says Dr. Guy Sneed of St. John Owasso Center for Women’s Health and Medical Director of St. John Clinic.
“In addition to expert care from the medical team, and the love and companionship of their partners, doulas can offer continuous reassurance, encouragement and comfort to mothers,” he says.