“A doula? Is that like a midwife?”*
Not really. Although many midwives and doulas share a focus on “high touch/low tech” patient-centered care – doulas are not medical professionals. Midwives and obstetricians (and the occasional family doctor who attends births) are medically trained and responsible for the health of mother and baby.
So, what is a doula? According to DONA International:
“[A doula is] a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”
TL;DR -- what does a doula really do?
Maker of small talk
Sometimes in labor not much is really happening. This can be a nervous or impatient time – or it can be time pleasantly spent in chit-chat and slow walks along the corridor or half-watching something on the hospital TV together. An important function of the doula is “normalization” – your doula is relaxed and telling funny stories about her dog and doing some knitting so everything must be okay!
Does the primary birth partner needs to eat, or make a phone call, or stretch their legs? (The answer is yes.) Thank goodness the doula is there so mom doesn’t have to labor alone!
Fetcher of ice and other essentials
I love to make sure that mother is well hydrated! Sometimes I’ll even go off campus to a nearby Target to buy a forgotten hot water bottle and/or tasty snacks for hard-working partners (and me).
Doulas are members of a small and vibrant community of birth workers wherever they live, and are an excellent source of recommendations for local chiropractors and pelvic-floor therapists; lactation consultants; online parenting groups; great books; and other new parent must-knows. And, as a recent client told me, it was helpful for her and her husband to better understand the likely timelines at a hospital birth, and how and when to ask questions of their providers.
An example I use in my Lamaze childbirth class is to imagine the scene of people cheering along the sidelines of a marathon. They yell out encouraging things, like “You got this! You can do it!” What you don’t typically see is them holding signs that say, “Why are you running? You can just walk!” or yelling at the runners, “Don’t be a martyr, just quit!” Many times, just telling a laboring mother: “You are working so hard! You are rocking this! You are so strong!” makes a world of difference.
Did you have a doula at your birth, or do you wish you did? What other unexpected things did she help you with?
* The most common question I ever get!