“Stop pushing. I’m not ready.”
Those were the first words out of the doctor’s mouth as he entered the room to deliver my second child. My primary doctor was out of town, so I was at the mercy of the doc on call (something I naively assumed would be OK). Knowing there was no way this baby was staying in until he scrubbed up and put on his gown, I turned to my doula with a look of panic, and she very calmly told me exactly what I needed to hear: “If you feel like pushing, keep pushing — this baby doesn't know to wait for the doctor.”
To say this experience was drastically different from my previous childbirth would be an understatement. During my first pregnancy and birth, I had an OB-GYN who was willing to work closely with my gifted doula (same one who told me to keep pushing), and together, they assisted my husband and me throughout pregnancy and childbirth. While at the hospital, I did everything from bouncing on an exercise ball to laboring in the tub. And when it came time to push, my OB looked at my doula, gave a head nod and allowed her to continue coaching me until my daughter was born. They were the perfect example of teamwork and respect.
Birth doulas help make childbirth better
According to Doulas of North America, a doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother (and her partner) before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.
Any woman who has had a baby can tell you giving birth is one time when extra support can be a life-changer, And that’s where doulas come in. Unlike midwives, doulas are not medical professionals and don’t physically deliver babies (although mine almost did!). Instead, they are there solely to provide emotional and physical support to women (and their partner) at the end of their pregnancies, throughout labor and beyond.
And now, new recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists about limiting medical interventions during labor and birth underscore the importance of having a doula present during birth:
"Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor. Benefits found in randomized trials include shortened labor, decreased need for analgesia, fewer operative deliveries, and fewer reports of dissatisfaction with the experience of labor.”
What a doula can do for you
Doulas have the ability to provide hands-on comfort measures like comforting touch, counter pressure, breathing techniques, massage, laboring positions and other “doula magic” for families. Because your medical team (doctor and nurses) may be in and out of your room while you labor, the close physical proximity that a doula can provide both before and after birth helps the mother relax and feel empowered during the process.
Doulas help families feel supported, easing the emotional experience of birth and also helping to create a space where the hormones of labor can work at their best. Whether a birth is completely unmedicated or medically very complex, every family can benefit from the nurturing and connection a support person can provide.
Whether it’s a romantic partner, a friend or another family member, the birth partner’s experience matters during birth. Because of this, doulas are there to support every birth partner in being as involved as they'd like. And for those with partners who want to actively participate in the labor and birthing process, it’s important to note the role of the doula is never to take the place of partners, but rather to complement and enhance their experience.
Other types of doulas
Postpartum doulas help “mother the mother” and nurture the entire family as they transition into life with a newborn. Since many birth doulas stay to support the mother after childbirth, they often become the postpartum support for the family. They have advanced training in newborn care and breastfeeding support and provide evidence-based information on things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother-baby bonding, infant-soothing and basic newborn care. Additionally, postpartum doulas often offer nighttime service to help the family transition more smoothly into the challenges of nighttime parenting.
Antepartum doulas help during circumstances of a high-risk pregnancy. Usually, the mother is confined to bed, so antepartum doulas provide advice on bed rest, stress reduction activities and the various complications during a high-risk birth.
Having a doula present before, during and after birth transformed my experience of pregnancy and childbirth. If it hadn’t been for my doula’s guidance and constant reassurance, those frustrating and disappointing interactions I had with the doctor during my second delivery would have been all that I remembered. Having my doula by my side was the best decision I could have ever made.
If you are interested in finding a doula in your area, DONA International has a Find a Doula feature that let’s you search for birth and postpartum doulas in your area.
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