Between 2006 and 2012 the number of parents who had a doula attend their births doubled. Celebs like Meghan Markle, Kristen Bell, and Kelly Ripa are bringing media attention to the idea of doulas. You may have heard about a few surprising and amazing benefits of having a doula such as improving your relationship and reducing your risk of a c-section by 51% (WOW!)
But one thing remains a mystery to most people. What in the AF does a doula do?
As a Seattle based doula, many of my clients ask me this.
They want to be supported, but they don’t want to be told what to do. They want help, but they don’t want anyone to take away from the special bonding time that is the birth of their child. I totally get this, because it is exactly what I wanted when I hired a doula as well.
This is your guide to knowing the answer to you question ‘What does a doula do?”
A Doulas Work
The word doula comes from the ancient Greek language and simply means “woman’s servant”. I always tell my clients that the role of a doula ultimately is to observe and serve. There are many ways I show up for my clients, and yet, the exact how changes for each client.
Sometimes the best thing I offer a client is support to work through fears before birth. Sometimes its the hand holding and counter pressure. Sometimes it helping create a birth plan. Other times its teaching a dad how to do what I do.
Officially douals are a person trained in birth that provides continuous support to a mother. That means instead of popping in and out like most of her medical team, a doulas job first and foremost is whatever the mother needs.
Doulas provide emotional support, physical support, and help mothers collect and interpret information about their birth so they can advocate for their wants and make decisions she (the mother) feels confident about.
25+ Little Ways A Doula Will Serve You
What Does A Doula Do Before Birth?
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my doula sat across from me as I sat on her couch and cried about my first birth experience. I was overwhelmingly scared to do it again. She helped me see the turning points in that experience. She helped me know how to better prepare so I did not end up in the same place again. She also helped me know that even if I did have an emergency, I would never be left alone and I would have someone by my side advocating for me and helping me use my voice. This was priceless.
Before birth, a doula will help you by:
- making sure you have solid information which allows you to make educated decisions about your birth plan
- help you define a clear vision and plan for your birth
- connecting you with local classes and moms groups
- helping you know your options as far as birth locations and providers should you ever need to transfer care mid-pregnancy
- gives you someone to talk through any unexpected changes to your birth plan with
- makes sure you know what interventions will likely be offered to you and help you know how to communicate your desires around them
What Does A Doula Do During Birth?
A Doula Will Help You Physically By:
- making sure you have a constant supply of water
- spending hours squeezing your hips to get you the counter-pressure you are craving
- bringing tools like a rebozo or yoga ball for you to use during birth
- going with you for a walk if you need a change
- making you laugh with a dance party when you need to pick the energy up
My doula recommended that I buy the energy packs marathon runners use in case I got worn out towards the end of birth. I distinctly remember being in the birth tub and having her squeeze one of these into my mouth while my husband held my hands and my midwife listened to the baby’s heartbeat.
Everyone had a job and I was glad I could take that moment to fully rest between contractions. My team took care of me. I did not have to ask for what I needed. I could keep my focus on birthing my baby. Just as important as the doing of the things I needed, was knowing the things I needed. Which she knew even before I did sometimes.
A Doula Will Help You Emotionally By:
- reminding you that birth is normal
- smiling when things are hard and giving you courage with her confidence
- counteracting that voice in your head that says you can’t do it
- providing you with ideas for pain management when you run out of them
- suggesting different ideas that could help your labor progress if you feel stuck
- encouraging you to change things up if you start to feel defeated or deflated
My doula did amazing things with counter pressure, birth positions the works. But the number one thing she did was hold the space for me to do my thing. I felt like I was managing contractions fairly well until I hit transition.
Then there it was, a contraction so big I felt like I could break in half from its intensity. At this moment, when I felt like going into panic mode, I looked at my doula. She smiled back at me. It was so simple. Without saying anything, I instantly knew I was safe. Two more contractions like that and I was through transition and pushing. This was hard work, but not overwhelming for me. My husband was there breathing with me and holding my hand through this.
His support was amazing and I will remember it forever. But without my doula’s presence, experience, and confidence, I would have entered full panic mode in transition.
A Doula Will Free Up Your Partner To Support You By:
- telling your husband exactly how to press your back in the way you need
- taking pictures so your partner can be right next to you instead of running around documenting everything
- reminding your husband of the words you want to hear
- helping your husband cope with the fact that he is witnessing you in pain and he cannot take it away no matter how much he wants to
- being comfortable and confident that everything that is happening as you birth is normal and okay when he is not sure
- giving him a chance to take a break from supporting you so that he can pee, make a phone call or get something to eat
- making sure that you are not alone when it is 3 in the morning and he is exhausted and needs a nap
Men get overwhelmed with birth too. It is a very hard thing to watch the person you love go through something so hard and not be able to take the pain away from them. A doula will make sure he doesn’t get scared and if he has questions about if something is normal or not he can express those concerns and work through them.
We often say that when a baby is born, so is a mother. But it is also true that when a baby is born, so is a father. This is a huge transition for the partner in your life as well. Having a doula means that your partner will have someone to encourage and guide him through the day as well. Often a doula can help a partner find his place in the birth room when otherwise he would be a little lost.
What Does A Doula Do In A C-Section?
- She can often go into the OR with you where she can hold your hand and offer comfort
- She can help you focus on the birth of your baby instead of the many distractions in the OR
- She can take pictures of your first moments with baby and as a family
- She can provide information about what is going on and how to cope with side effects such as shaking or nausea
- Advocate for baby to be placed with you as soon as possible and sometimes help you breastfeed before transferring back to your room
C-sections can be an incredible way to give birth. Often, if a c-section is unplanned, a doula can help you process your emotions about the change and help you find the feeling of being human amidst a big medical procedure. She can also take the first pictures of your baby being weighed and swaddled. And if for any reason your partner is separated from the birthing mother to be with the baby a doula stays with the mother and offers support. I think the best thing I do as an doula suring a c-sectin is advocate to get baby’s with their mommies as soon as possible with as little separation as possible.
What Does A Doula Do In An Emergency?
When there is an emergency in birth, everything goes very fast. Everyone on your birth team will have a job and be focused on that job. Often, there is not a lot of time for communication about the details of what is going on and why. A doula can sometimes provide information about what is going on and improve communication.
For example, I was once with a mother whose baby inhaled meconium. After birth 4 NICU nurses stood around the baby suctioning out his lungs. He was totally fine, the doctor said it, the nurses said it. And yet, it is stressful to not have your baby in your arms immediately and the parents were understandably concerned. I was able to explain what was going on and why. It was really a matter of baby needing a small bit of help, but no true emergency, although it would be easy to feel that way at the time.
Another time, I was with a family that had a c-section. Everything seemed fine, we were taking pictures, mom was holding the baby with some help, everyone was happy. And then all of a sudden, mom reacted to something and went into a critical condition. It was a very scary change. Mom suddenly was going one way and baby was going another way. Dad was looking between the two not knowing what to do. Which of the two people that he loved was he supposed to go with?
I was able to encourage him to go with his partner and was able to send continual updates and pictures of their baby while they were separated. I was also able to advocate to get them all back together and be the point person with the concerned parents waiting in the waiting room.
To Summarize The Question ‘What Does A Doula Do?’
To summarize the question, what does a doula do, a doula does many things. She is with you through the unfolding of your birth experience and will support you in many various and unique ways through the journey.
She is not occupied by medical tasks or on a shift. She is your person start to finish to help you have the best experience possible. Having a doula doesn’t guarantee you will get everything you want during your birth, but it does mean that no matter what happens you will have a person equipped to support you by your side helping you navigate the new and unfamiliar waters.