What is a Doula?
A Doula…. a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and after childbirth.
A Doula…. believes birth is a natural process … recognizes birth as a transformational event in the life of a woman, and contributes to making it a safe and positive experience.
A Doula…. understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor …stays with the mother throughout labor …supports the mother in her choice of birth options; does not force her own viewpoint on the mother.
A Doula…. serves as an advocate for the mother and her partner in carrying out their birth plan … facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and clinical care providers … helps the partner participate in the birth at his/her level of comfort; does not replace the role of the partner, but supplements it.
Doulas (also called Childbirth Assistants, Labor Support Professionals, Birth Assistants, or Birth Companions) provide emotional, physical and informational support during pregnancy, labor, birth and immediate postpartum.
A Doula does not replace the partner. Instead she helps support the partner so that he or she can love and encourage the laboring woman.
Throughout the ages, women have looked to other women for support while giving birth. This is a primal need and does not reflect on her relationship with her partner in any way.
The Doula’s Role with the Dad
Some women feel that if they have a partner planning on being involved in the birth of their baby, the services of a doula are unnecessary. The doula is sometimes thought to be needed only by women without partners. Likewise, some fathers may feel threatened by the presence of a doula…worried that she will “take over,” preventing him from total participation in his baby’s birth.
The doula’s role can enhance the birthing experience for both the mother and the father. During pregnancy, a doula meets with a couple to discuss the birth of their child. Both partners’ thoughts and feelings are addressed. Their wishes, worries, and concerns are discussed as thoroughly as they want. In a woman’s pregnancy, questions are usually addressed to her. The father is given a chance during a prenatal meeting with a doula to talk about his own concerns for the birth. The depth of discussion is dependent on each partner’s comfort level. The doula can answer almost any question the parents ask, (although a few answers may require additional research on the doula’s part) yet, she won’t press the couple for more information than they are comfortable revealing.
At the onset of labor, some doulas will come to the couple’s home and help them through the beginning of labor until the time arrives when they must leave for the hospital. Upon departure, the doula can help the father prepare the mother, pack suitcases into the car, make phone calls, and any other final tasks to be done.
Once at the hospital, and as labor increases in intensity, the doula’s role with the father becomes significant. The deepening pain the mother experiences can spark new questions and feelings in the father. Doulas are experienced in childbirth and have a good understanding of what’s normal in labor, as well as options to consider if their labor doesn’t follow typical lines. She will be in constant attention to the parents, and can readily assure them that their labor is progressing normally. If not, she can help give them a better understanding of what’s going on. She can explain certain medical procedures, or gather further information from the doctors and nurses if they desire.
When a couple goes through labor for the first time, they have a partial conception of what typically happens during the birthing process based on childbirth classes, or books they may have read during pregnancy, and in hearing the birth stories of their friends and family. However, as labor begins for them, a type of confusion may set in. A hospital is an active place. The labor nurses and the doctors have several patients to attend to, therefore they are commonly in and out of the labor rooms the entire time. On less busy days, they may spend more time with each individual patient. Fear of the unknown plays a part during labor for parents. They study the demeanor and facial expressions of the professionals attending them for signs that all is well, or for signs of trouble. A doula’s countenance and manner can also be looked on by fathers as additional assurance, a more personal assurance – since they usually will have formed a relationship earlier in pregnancy. A father can feel more comfortable being candid with their doulas than with the attending nurses or physicians. She can be an advocate for their wishes, and can ask the hospital staff questions for them.
As a father might look to a doula for assurance, the mother looks to the father. She can better relax and help her baby out if she has the confident, unwavering support of her partner. If he appears nervous and unsure, she feels it. She may interpret his behavior as confirmation of her fear that something must be wrong. (The first-time mother can feel this readily, although things may be going quite well.) If the father appears encouraging and strong, she feels it. She may interpret this behavior as confirmation of her hope that everything is all right.
The doula helps the father help the mother, sometimes just by her presence. A doula will have some one-on-one contact with the mother, massaging her into relaxation, talking her softly through the pain, encouraging her to vary positions which speeds labor and can lessen pain, and expressing support between contractions. Sometimes the father will learn how to better help his partner by observing her reactions to the doula. Fathers and doulas can team their efforts in helping the mother as well. (i.e. “You massage the right leg, I’ll do the left.”) They may use their strength together to help the mother walk the halls, which also can speed progress. They can take over helping the mother for each other when one needs to use the restroom. When the time comes to push the baby out, a common position for the mother is sitting up, with each knee bent into her chest, supported by two people. There are many positions the mother may use which require the physical support of two people. In this, the combined efforts of both father and doula can be very effective.
Upon delivery, Dad may want to observe his newborn child’s first medical assessments. The doula will remain by the mother unless instructed otherwise. This enables the father to marvel at the new life, make phone calls, or visit the restroom while the mother continues to receive support. If he wishes, their doula can make the calls while he stays with his partner.
One to two days after the delivery, the doula will return to the couple for a postpartum visit, and to assist with breastfeeding and newborn care if needed. This is a splendid opportunity for the parents and their doula to exchange thoughts on the birth. It’s important for the couple to understand what went on during their birth experience. In the midst of the pain and excitement of delivery, understanding can be hard to gain until afterward. During the doula’s postpartum visit, any questions the parents have about their birth will be discussed, and each will hopefully be left with understanding and contentment about their child’s entrance into the world.