Many of us have heard of the term doula but have no idea what they are or what kind of care they provide, and when. While exploring options for your pregnancy and birth, you may be feeling lost wondering things like “Do I need a doula?”, “Will a doula support me if I want an epidural?” or “Can I still have a doula if I have a midwife?”. Below we will answer all your burning questions about what birth doulas do and what type of care and support they offer.
What Is A Doula?
A doula is a labour support professional. They are there to provide physical, emotional, and informational support to the birthing person and their partner or family. Doulas do not provide medical support. The practical and emotional support offered by a birth doula is provided prenatally, during labour and in the early postpartum period.
Let’s use an analogy here to clarify what doulas do and why they’re important. Let’s say you had a goal of climbing a big mountain like Mt. Everest, or the like. You would surely do all of the training required, read everything that you needed to make sure you were ready to go, pack your bags, and get as prepared as possible. But – you would very likely still hire a sherpa once you got to the base of the mountain. You would want someone there who had travelled the mountain before, knew what the terrain was like, could read the clouds and the weather patterns, and could help carry your gear when the going got tough.
That’s what doulas do for birth and postpartum. Doulas know birth and postpartum. It’s their terrain. As much as you wish your mother, best friend, or partner could support you through that terrain, let’s face it – you wouldn’t use one of them as your sherpa for climbing a big mountain, and they’re also not likely the right fit for helping you through your birth and postpartum. A doula is like your birth and postpartum sherpa.
There are birth doulas for every kind of birth and it’s important to find the doula that is the best fit for you. There are doulas with lots of experience with home birth, and water birth, and some with more experience with IVF. Some doulas have supported many births of multiples or have HypnoBirthing training. Some doulas understand the unique needs of queer parents and doulas who have experience with high-risk pregnancies. There is a birth doula out there that would be the perfect fit for you. For more information, check out our Doula Guide.
What Is The Difference Between A Doula and A Midwife?
While a doula acts as non-medical support, a midwife is a medical professional. A midwife’s main role is to support you and your baby with the medical aspect of pregnancy and birth. A midwife does things like monitor the growth of your baby, check blood levels and perform blood pressure and cervical checks.
Being a medical professional comes with responsibilities such as charting that can keep them busy during labour and birthing – in hospital birth, your midwife will need to be entering information into the medical chart every 20 minutes. This may prevent them from being able to provide frequent or hands-on comfort measures throughout.
What Does A Doula Do?
The role of a doula is unlike any other. Unlike your medical professional who will have a defined shift time for your birth, a birth doula offers you continuity of care from the very beginning. Your doula is there through your prenatal visits, your labour and delivery, and even in the days and weeks following. They are by your side through all of it, acting as your pregnancy, birth, and baby concierge.
Prenatal Help & Support
Birth doulas know the OBs, family doctors and midwives or the areas they serve. They know the hospital or clinic policies and the best place for a prenatal massage or what to do if your baby is in a less-than-optimal position. Doulas know how and when to find a pediatrician and what to pack in that birth bag. They know that you should never buy baby sleepers with snaps and that your partner can get a hot cup of coffee at 3 am near your birthing hospital. – Heck, they’ll probably even go get it for them!
All of this is just the start! Together with your doula, you will prepare for your birthing. You’ll go over positions for labour, pushing positions, comfort measures, breathing techniques and other practical tips. This might be when you develop some birthing preferences or a birth plan. Your doula will help you understand what to include.
During your pregnancy, you can turn to your birth doula to answer all of the “Is this normal?” questions that you will surely have. They can also advise you when it might be a good idea to check in with your primary medical care provider about your concerns.
Labour & Birth Role
Wondering if this is really labour or if you just ate too much pizza at dinner? Your doula can help with that too. Doulas can help you determine when it’s a good time to head to the hospital or to call in your midwives.
Your birth doula is by your side throughout your labour. When seven o’clock rolls around and nurses change shifts, they stay. Doulas give massages, coach breathing, translate medical jargon and help you to understand what to expect next. If things are moving slowly or not going to plan, your doula can offer suggestions of new things to try.
While doulas don’t perform medical tasks or tell you what to do, they do help facilitate communication with your medical team so that you know what to ask. This allows you to make the best decisions for yourself. It’s your birth after all!
When your baby arrives, a doula can help support your early feeding goals and make sure that everyone is settled in and comfortable before leaving you to bond as a family. Your doula will follow up with you in the days after your baby is born to make sure you are connected to any support you require and to answer those early postpartum questions. Postpartum doulas can help parents with establishing routines, learning what is normal, and even help with things like giving the first bath, assisting with breastfeeding or helping to locate the best help for those things.
Place Of Work
Birth doulas support home births, hospital births, and birth centre births. They support natural births, medicated births, and even surgical births!
To learn more about what birth doulas do, join us for our monthly FREE doula info night.