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What is a Doula? Part 2

pregnant woman sitting on dock

We’re continuing our series on what it means to be a doula. By now we all know that being a doula is a powerful calling for people who have a strong desire to be an emotional and spiritual guide for expecting mothers. But why do people call doulas in the first place? What exactly is it that makes being a doula such a powerful profession? Today we’re going to find out why moms all over the world make finding a doula a top priority when they are expecting a new baby.

Why Do Expectant Mothers Seek Out Doulas?

When a woman finds out that she is pregnant, she steps onto the winding path of becoming a mother. This is a time of wonder, and may also bring a sudden thirst for more information – about what to expect with her body, about pregnancy, during birth and onwards towards caring for a newborn.

Two types of moms might be especially likely to discover, and then want to hire, a doula. The first wants a natural birth, and may have been introduced to the idea of doulas through a book like Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, or through a childbirth education class (CBE) such as the “Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth” or ‘Birthing From Within’ course. These CBE classes tend to emphasize the power of birthing without pain medication, and help their students feel very empowered about how & why to birth under their own power.

The other type of mom may have a previous birth experience they don’t want to repeat – perhaps they felt isolated, bullied into medical procedures, or they have lingering trauma. As a consequence, these moms (and their partners) may feel an urgent need for educated & personalized support during their birthing process. These parents may take to the Internet to find doulas in their area, or ask around for referrals from friends, their OB, Midwife, or social groups.

There are so many reasons to use a doula when having a baby today in a medical setting. In our enormous health care system that is organized around profit and a medical approach to birth more than offering personalized care during a normal & generally healthy process, the doula offers essential continuum of care and belief in the normal process of birth.

Mothers may lean on their doulas for any combination of support, such as:

  1. Medical advocate – In a setting such as a hospital, there is a tendency for patients to feel intimidated by authority, and especially so when they are in the vulnerable state of opening to powerful contractions and sensations. Doulas improve their clients’ experiences by being a witness to the interactions, reminding parents of other questions & perspectives to consider (when asked), and helping both mother & provider to continue to prioritize her wishes in the birth journey.
  2. Experienced guidance – Parents are often surprised to find out that nurses will not always be inclined or able to fulfill the role of comforting and guiding them in their labor– their role and tasks are medically-based first. But throughout time, comforting, experienced women have attended birthing mothers, and much of that lost community may now be thoughtfully met by a birth doula. The presence of a doula has been found to help to reduce interventions and need for pharmaceutical pain relief. It undeniably helps to smooth the way to have someone there that is experienced in both the birth process and hospital protocols to reassure parents and offer fresh ideas as they navigate their birth.
  3. Support for father/partner – Dads and partners are having their own experience in the birth process, and must be free to be available to the mother in the ways that best suit them both, which may not always be hands on and constantly present. It’s asking an awful lot to turn every woman’s partner into a ‘birth expert’ or ‘coach’, and expecting them to feel qualified to know what questions to ask and what positions to suggest! If the birth is long, or especially strenuous, then just one person may not be enough to help keep mom physically supported, hydrated, nourished, and encouraged! Having a doula on board means that the father/partner often comes out of the birth process more informed, less stressed, feeling more supported, less exhausted…. and therefore better positioned to support his/their family heading in to the challenges of post partum.
  4. Resource – Birth is rarely a swift linear experience! It’s more likely to be an evolving journey of variation, different between mothers, between families, even between babies! Since everyone has often only been to one birth (their own!), or maybe a couple of births between themselves and their friends or family, a doula can bring her experience of 10 or 50 or 100 births to the table. And this means she’s trained for and seen a whole lot of quirky labor situations, coached moms through a whole lot of contractions, and have acquired a big bag of ‘tricks’ help things go smoothly for the mother.
  5. And to help parenting land sweetly. We tend to think that the birth is all about the baby getting out of the mother. But honestly, sometimes the next day, or week, is even harder! Doulas generally have a lot of practical ideas for keeping things on track as the new family acclimates to parenting, needs breastfeeding support, and seeks insight for “what’s normal” regarding sleep & feeding patterns.

Many women find themselves naturally falling in to this supportive role for their friends and family members – which are perfect! When you find yourself wanting to do it for those moms who may not have a ‘birth crazy’ sister-in-law, that’s when you might want to explore becoming a professional doula. And take your passion to the next level helping women and their families have safe, satisfying and empowering births!