Doula or don’t?

Oct 4, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

If you’re planning on a drug-free labor, you may benefit from the assistance of a professional birth coach.

Examine your birth plan and find out if a doula is right for you and your birth partner, or if you’re better off flying solo.

Natural childbirth is a polarizing topic, and all the arguing can get in the way of celebrating birth in every form. Whether you’re gung-ho for an epidural or determined to try an unmedicated labor, a doula can help you achieve a better birth experience. A doula is a woman trained specifically to provide support during birth. Find out if a doula is right for your birth plan.

Feeling anxious about childbirth?

Even moms who have already experienced labor can feel nervous about an upcoming birth. Doulas train extensively to assist with childbirth. They provide a service that supports a woman’s emotional and physical state during labor. Even if you’re planning on or allowing for the possibility of having a medicated birth, a doula can support you and your partner and help advocate for you during the process. A doula attends your entire labor, often at home as well as at the hospital or birthing center. She arrives with tools like music, massage and aromatherapy and will support both you and your birthing partner. Doulas meet with you during pregnancy to help you plan your birth and to talk to you about support methods. This can help with anxiety over childbirth.

Do you want a natural birth?

A doula does not perform the duties of a midwife or obstetrician. Instead, she focuses solely on the experience of the laboring mother. This careful attention helps moms trust the birth process. Bradley Method Instructor Laura Irmis, AAHCC, recalls her experience with a doula. “Doulas are more about emotional support," Irmis says. "The physical support is just a bonus. I love doulas and feel our society needs them to help build confidence in women's bodies and to simply trust birth." If you’re curious about natural childbirth but you’re nervous about it too, a doula can gently guide you and help you with birthing techniques and positions that can make natural childbirth a positive experience for you and your birth partner.

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Are you intimidated by medical professionals?

Hospitals trigger anxiety and tension in many patients. Laboring mothers are no exception. It’s common to be intimidated by doctors and nurses during the labor process, no matter how gentle or understanding they’re being. A doula can help act as a liaison between you and your doctor. In the thick of it, this kind of insight can be crucial, especially when it comes to knowing your rights as a patient. A doula may also encourage techniques such as sitting on a ball or taking a hot shower that a labor and delivery staff member may be too busy to help you with.

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Is a doula right for you?

As wonderful as a doula’s assistance can be, it’s not for everyone. The best way to evaluate whether or not a doula is right for you is to meet with doulas in your area. Try searching with DONA International to find a certified doula in your area. Meet with plenty of questions in mind and take notes. When you’re meeting with your potential doulas, pay attention to how you feel. Are you comfortable? Do your personalities mesh? Remember that you may spend a great deal of time with your doula. You’ll be in an emotionally and physically vulnerable state. Your doula should make you feel strong and at peace, not intimidated or uncomfortable. After meeting with doulas, you’ll have a better sense of whether or not this is the right path for your upcoming birth.

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