What Is a Birth Doula?
Duchess Meghan has expressed interest in having a natural birth — so much so that reports claim she has been working with a doula. That means curious women everywhere have several questions about what that means, starting with the very obvious: What exactly is a doula?
A birth doula is a non-medical labor support person who is hired to help a woman through the delivery of her baby and may even provide support after the baby is born. While reports have suggested that Meghan would prefer a home birth with her own team of mid-wives, that completely depends on how things are going closer to the time of her delivery.
The fact that this is her first child and she’s over the age of 35 means most doctors would advise her to deliver at a hospital. The most likely choice? Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey. Of course, the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London, where Kate Middleton delivered her children and Princess Diana delivered Princes William and Harry, is also a possibility. However, recent reports believe that’s less likely because the parking restrictions at the hospital implemented in preparation for Kate’s births have yet to be enforced.
Despite possibly delivering at a hospital, we can ensure that Meghan will have as natural a birth as possible. With a doula? Who knows yet, but here are some questions answered on exactly what that would be like and why she would opt to go that route.
How Does a Doula Assist During Birth?
While it’s not a doula’s job to perform any medical acts, like giving medication or taking tests, a doula keeps plenty busy during labor.
They can help you stay calm and focused, offer support and advice, help you change positions to get more comfortable, or even provide soothing techniques like visualization or massage.
What If I Want Medication?
It’s a common mistake that doulas are only for a certain type of birth. But doulas are not only helpful for non-medical or “natural” births.
The role of a doula is not to dictate your birth, but rather support you in whatever type of birth you choose to have.
While many mothers planning non-medical births will opt for a doula (given the extra support can’t hurt when you’re going sans epidural), doulas are trained to support various types of birth, from non-medicated home births to planned hospital cesareans.
Can a Doula Help Me Plan My Birth?
A doula can absolutely help you plan your birth. A doula can offer sage wisdom to help you come up with a plan that is based on good evidence and then help you to execute that plan.
Often times, when the going gets tough in the birthing room, plans quickly go out the window.
A doula can remind you of the plan you made and why it was important to you at the time, then give you helpful tools for how to achieve your desired birth.
How Can a Doula Help With Pain Management?
Surprisingly, doulas are one of the best forms of pain management during delivery there is.
Women who have doulas during their delivery report lower levels of pain and less feelings of being “out of control” or afraid.
That’s because it’s been proven that continuous labor support is actually the best kind of pain management there is.
Can a Doula Advocate for Me During Birth?
Sometimes, care providers have different plans for your delivery than you do.
While standing up for yourself during birth is a job no laboring woman should have to do, women sometimes find themselves doing just that.
A doula knows a woman’s rights during birth and can help make sure that your informed consent is a priority during delivery if, for any reason, it begins to be overlooked.
How Do I Choose a Doula?
When looking for a doula, talking to other mothers about their experiences is a good place to start.
Social media is a great tool for finding local birth groups or meet-ups for moms-to-be.
You should also check your doulas credentials to make sure they are trained and certified. Meet with them well before you give birth to make sure your personalities and ideas about birth align for the big day.
Overall, the most important thing about choosing a doula is finding someone you feel comfortable with.
How Will the Presence of a Doula Impact my Partner’s Role?
One of a doula’s most important jobs is to help your partner best support you.
While a lot of people worry that their partner will end up taking on a less active role, the opposite it typically true.
A doula encourages partner support and can even help your partner know how, when, and the best ways to help during delivery.
How Much Does a Doula Charge?
The cost of a doula can vary greatly. That’s because levels of experience, location, and other variables can impact the cost.
Typically, a doula charges anywhere between $500-$1,000 for a birth, which usually includes a pre-birth consultation, and on-going communication and check-ins leading up to the birth.
What If I Can’t Afford a Doula?
Some hospitals provide doulas at little or no charge to the birthing mother. However, a doula that works for a hospital is quite different than a doula who works for you.
A hospital doula will have plenty of knowledge of birth, but given they aren’t employed by you, it’s their job to stick to hospital protocol which sometimes, aren’t evidence-based.
Most moms opt for doulas they hire so they know their needs are being fully supported.
Some organizations, like the Birth Options Alliance or other organizations through individual states, provide low-cost or free doulas to moms who can’t afford them.
Does the Presence of a Doula Impact Birth Outcomes?
Not surprisingly, doulas have drastic positive outcomes on birth.
Lower rates of cesarean birth, episiotomies, or the use of forceps are less common during doula-supported birth.
While moms who use doulas are less likely to ask for pain relief, they also report better experiences with giving birth, they often require less medical intervention, which in turn, can mean shorter and easier recovery times.
What Other Contact Will I Have With My Doula?
While doulas are great at providing support, improving birth outcomes, they are also a great source of knowledge during your pregnancy.
A doula can’t provide unlimited support, most likely, but most will offer phone and email support to put a soon-to-mom at ease during pregnancy or after the baby is born.
Many doulas will also provide you with a follow-up visit to check on how you and your new baby are doing.
What Is the Doula’s Role Immediately Following Delivery?
Most doulas will provide support in the immediate postpartum.
That can include anything from helping you to use the bathroom, holding the baby, providing comfort measures, or even assisting with breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact.
What About Other Kinds of Doulas?
While they can provide some post-delivery help, a birth doula is not the same as a postpartum doula.
A postpartum doula is someone who comes to your home to help you care for the baby in the weeks and months after birth. But a postpartum doula doesn’t just care for the baby. They can do anything that needs to be done to help a new family adjust to a new way of life, such as throwing in a load of laundry, or helping prepare meals so that you have a little less to worry about in those early postpartum days.
There are also death doulas and abortion doulas, who help provide support in each of those scenarios, as well.
What If I Want a Doula but My Partner Is Uncomfortable With It?
Your partner’s say is obviously very important, especially when you’re about to form a family. But remember, your baby’s birth is equally important.
If your partner isn’t comfortable with a doula being present, find out why, or try having them talk with others who’ve had positive experiences with a doula.
Most partners will say that their experience would’ve been drastically different had a doula not been present to support the birth.
Ultimately, the birth belongs to the birthing woman, and so, the decision should lie largely with what she is most comfortable with.
What Happens If My Doula Can’t Be Present for My Birth?
Almost every doula will have some kind of back-up system in place should they not be available on the day of your birth.
While doulas work on call, emergencies do happen (like two births happening on the same day) and so in that case, a back-up should be provided.
You can certainly ask to meet this person and make sure you are comfortable with either person being present to support your delivery.
Can I Fire My Doula?
While firing your doula during delivery would be difficult, it’s not completely unheard of.
If you strongly feel your doula is not respecting your wishes or providing you with the kind of support you had hoped for, you have the ability to fire your doula.
In this case, you may be responsible for the fees owed to the doula, regardless.
It should be said that this occurrence is quite rare and most women have overwhelmingly positive experience with their labor support person.
Can I Continue a Relationship With My Doula After Postpartum?
While it’s not in a doula’s job description to keep up communication with you after your baby’s birth, or at least after their postpartum visit, many women feel a connection with the person who supported their birth.
A woman’s delivery is usually a day which brings up strong feelings, and if those feelings are good, she will likely have positive feelings about the people who supported those transitions.
It’s not a requirement, but many women find themselves staying friends or acquaintances with their doula afterwards.
What Are the Best Doula Certification Programs?
There are several doula certification programs out there.
The most highly regarded and well-known is DONA But there are dozens of programs doulas can take to gain certification, some undoubtedly better and far-reaching than others.
Do your research and make sure you are comfortable with your doula’s level of training.
How Do I Know If a Doula Is Right for Me?
Only you can decide if a doula is the right choice for you. Chances are, if you find the right person, it will be a no-brainer.
The statistics are clear that doulas lead to more positive outcomes, as well as a woman having better feelings about her delivery day. But the choice is more complicated than one based on just statistics.
When you hire a doula you should feel confident, comfortable and have little doubt about your choice.
This person will play an important role on one of the biggest days of your life, so make sure it’s what you want and who you want by your side.