The prospect of giving birth for any expectant mother can seem incredibly overwhelming. But whether you choose to give birth at the hospital or to take the natural route and give birth at home with midwife, finding a birth coach or a doula might help you immensely, no matter what happens. Here are a few reasons why a doula might make the difference in making the birth experience a smoother one.
1. A doula offers a different kind of support.
While a obstetrician or midwife will focus on the medical aspects of pregnancy and birth, a doula is trained to handle the non-medical aspects, which are as equally important. One may ask, why would I need a doula if I have a doctor or midwife already? First, doulas (also called "labor companions" or "birthworkers") can provide extra physical, emotional and educational support to the woman and her partner before, during and after labor. (Find a comparison of roles between doula vs. midwife here.)
For example, they can help you develop a birth plan, offer pain-relieving prenatal massage during labor, guide you through breathing exercises and visualizations, or let you know about better birthing positions, both in and out of a hospital setting, and give post-birth coaching too. Speaking from personal experience, I find that a doula can take care of the more subtle things that help make the whole birth and postpartum experience much more bearable. Doulas are your best advocate, and can help guide you through the process from beginning to end, and beyond.
2. A doula is there for your partner, too.
Doula's aren't just there for the woman: they also offer support to the partner, who may be at their wits' end during the long, difficult hours of labor. Here, a doula may be essential in helping to relieve some of the anxiety or exhaustion that the woman's partner may feel -- she's the back-up and a real ally, just in case the partner needs to sleep or take a break.
3. Science suggests that a doula can help you have an easier birth.
According to a 1999 study by Case Western Reserve University, having a doula may help reduce the likelihood that you'll require medical interventions like an epidural or c-section. It found that births attended by "continuous doula support" -- compared to those that weren't -- had "lower use of epidural analgesia, less pitocin, fewer mothers developing fever, fewer forceps or vacuum deliveries, and an extremely low number of cesarean deliveries," making doula support a relatively "risk-free intervention."
4. A doula can help make breastfeeding easier.
A South African study found that 51% of doula-supported mothers were still breastfeeding after 6 weeks, compared to 29% of mothers without. We know the benefits of breastfeeding: it's more nutritious for babies, and facilitates bonding between mother and child. So having someone in your corner may make all the difference especially if others around you do not support breastfeeding.
Writes Dr. Bruce A. Meyer, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School: "A mother who was nurtured through labor, birth, and the early postpartum period was able to nurture and care for her infant, ensuring successful breast-feeding,"
5. A doula can help you feel better about your birth experience, no matter what happens.
A doula rightly recognizes that birth is a key life experience for a woman, and does her best to help nurture the woman through that life-changing process in a positive way. Realistically, any number of things can go off the rails during birth: the home birth isn't successful and has to be transferred to a hospital; or at the hospital, a planned vaginal birth doesn't happen and surgery becomes the alternative.
So, having positive support, no matter what does happen, makes a difference. A 1991 study found that a woman's long-term memories of her birth experience are affected by the quality of care, even 20 years after the fact. Respectful and nurturing care led to positive memories of the experience even years later, contributing to better self-esteem and confidence, while the opposite was true for women who felt unsupported.
Tips on finding a doula
Check out DONA (Doulas of North America), Find A Doula and the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA). If you are on a tight budget, you can contact these organizations or local doulas who might know a student doula-in-training who can offer services on a volunteer or by-donation basis. Whatever the case may be, positive support of any kind is crucial during birth, and it's worth it to have someone in your corner, be it relatives, a labour assistant or a close friend.