What is a doula?
"Doula" (pronounced "doola") is a Greek word meaning "woman servant or caregiver". It now refers to an experienced woman who offers emotional and practical support to a pregnant woman or new mother and her partner before, during and after childbirth. A doula believes in "mothering the mother", enabling a woman to have the most satisfying and empowered time that she can during her transition to parenthood. This type of support also helps the whole family to relax and enjoy the experience. The doula's most important role is to provide nurturing, continuous support and reassurance, she does not offer any clinical care - that is the job of the midwife or medical staff.
The birth doula is chosen by the mother-to-be. She will usually meet with the mother and her partner at least twice beforehand to prepare for the birth, and be available by telephone or for additional meetings as required. She will support the mother or parents wherever they choose to give birth, whether in hospital or at home. During labour the doula can offer help and suggestions on comfort measures such as relaxation, movement and positioning. She also supports the father to participate in the birth at a level with which he feels comfortable. The birth doula will follow up with at least one postnatal visit to facilitate time for debriefing and to help the new mother settle in at home with her baby. Some, although not all birth doulas offer extended postnatal support, other doulas offer only postnatal support however, and the mother may choose to employ a postnatal doula on a regular basis for a period of up to 8 weeks after her baby's birth. The postnatal doula works flexible hours to suit the family, offering practical and emotional support to the new mother and father in the home following the birth of baby. With the help of a doula, a mother may enjoy some of the benefits of a "lying in" period which can support her in bonding with her baby and prolonging breastfeeding. The postnatal doula's work is about empowering the family to take care of itself.
Why is there a need for Doulas?
With midwives under pressure from over stretched resources, the continuous emotional support of one carer is not always practical or possible for women during a hospital birth and may be limited during the postnatal period. As families are now more geographically scattered, this support is not always available from relatives either.The doula may be employed to fulfill this role.
Research cited in "Mothering the Mother", Klaus, Kennell & Klaus published in 1993 found that having a doula present at a birth:
" Can shorten a first-time labour by approximately 2 hours
" Decreases the chances of caesarean section by 50%
" Decreases the need for pain medication
" Can help fathers to participate with confidence
" Increases the chances of prolonged breastfeeding
" Reduces the chance of postnatal depression
If you would like more information about doulas, their role and how to find one in your area, visit the following links:
With thanks to Doula UK (www.doula.org.uk) for providing the content for this article.