You’ve just gotten the big news: you’re pregnant! Now you’re dreaming up names, opening a college fund and scouring Pinterest for the best DIY baby food recipes. You and your partner have signed up for childbirth education classes, and you have found a trusted care provider. We all know it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to have a baby. Along with your partner and care provider, a doula is a great part of your birth support team.
Think of a doula as your knowledgeable guide through pregnancy. She provides non-medical care with continuous informational, physical and emotional support before, during and after birth. Whether this baby is your first or your fifth, whether you’re planning to have your baby in the hospital or out of the hospital or with a doctor or a midwife, investing in a doula can help you in some key ways to feel more calm and confident in welcoming your little one.
1. Help develop your birth plan. A doula can meet with you prenatally to talk about your goals and expectations for the big day and talk about how you will best work together. She can note your preferences in a birth plan, which you can then review with your care provider and bring with you on the day you go into labor.
2. Help you decide when to go to the hospital. You’ve probably heard that labor comes in fits and starts or heard of couples being sent home from the hospital because they’ve arrived too early. Your doula can help you avoid frustration and disappointment by joining you at home to labor there as long as possible, while still departing for the hospital in a safe amount of time.
3. Support your partner in helping you. For many families, a birthing is the first time a partner has been around a laboring woman, and the partner may feel unsure of how to help. A doula can assist your partner in supporting you by providing reassurance and encouragement. She can also help your partner take care of himself or herself—so he or she can take better care of you—by making sure he or she is eating, hydrating and resting as needed.
4. Provide physical comfort. Remember all those handy tips for labor you learned in your classes? Well, there’s a good chance you and your partner will forget a lot of what you learned once you’re in labor land. Your doula can guide your partner in helping you labor by reminding him or her of comfort measures to try.
5. Help you interpret information and ask questions. Labor and birth can be nerve-wracking because we can’t predict or control the outcome. As decisions need to be made with your care provider, a doula can guide you in asking questions and understanding information so that you can feel confident in your decision-making.
6. Help with breastfeeding. If you choose to breastfeed, a doula can stay after the birth to help you establish the first latch and feel more comfortable with feeding. She can also check in on you after delivery and refer you to other professionals if you need more in-depth support.
7. Be the “thermostat” (not the thermometer). Labor and birth is a physically demanding process, but it’s also very emotional for both mother and partner. A doula can be the emotional thermostat for the room: helping to set a tone of calm even if things don’t go according to the birth plan.
8. Manage the family. If you’re worried about a waiting area full of family members, a doula can act as the “ambassador” for your labor room. She can update the family by text and sit with them periodically to answer their questions, update them with what’s happening during labor and let them know how mom is doing.
9. Work with staff. During the birth, your doctor, midwife and nurse will likely be attending to other laboring mothers as well, so their time may be split or they may change out if they reach the end of a shift. A doula supports your labor continuously and is there to work collaboratively with your medical care team. She can help make sure your immediate needs are met so that your care providers can focus on the medical needs of you and your baby.
Phyllis Brasenell is a DONA-certified birth doula in practice in Austin.