What’s the Deal With Doulas? What a Doula Is and Does

You may have heard the word doula, but do you know what a doula actually does? A doula is not a nurse or a midwife, but a special supporter there for the mother, during and after childbirth.

To my amazement, I still meet people who do not know what a doula is or what a doula does. Almost three years ago, I underwent doula training through a DONA International educator. Since I’ve never been pregnant, I wanted to be able to relate to my pregnant clients better and get to know them on a deeper level. I wanted to understand pregnancy and birth from all angles, more so than just the print that was in my textbooks. I felt a calling to the world of pregnancy and birth.

According to The Doula Project, the word doula is an ancient Greek term that translates into “caregiver” or “woman of service,” and has been used over the past several decades to describe a woman who provides various non-medical support measures such as emotional support, pain management and relaxation techniques, and information to those who are pregnant.

I view a doula as a coach, a teacher, a cheerleader, and a conductor of an orchestra all in one. I spoke with Hayley Oakes, an experienced doula, and this is how she described a doula:

A doula is an informational, emotional, and physical support person for a pregnant woman in labor, during birth, and in the immediate postpartum period – that is distinctly different from a midwife, your mother or your friend. It is someone who is emotionally unattached yet acts as an advocate, and a committed presence (during labor) for mom and baby by guiding and prompting her to find her voice and ability to cope and endure the natural physicality of birthing a child.

A doula has the skills to be both a birth doula and postpartum doula. However, some doulas specialize in one or the other. According to DONA International, a birth doula not only understands the physiology and demands of birth, but will also aid the woman in preparing and carrying out her birth plan. DONA International states that a postpartum doula offers support in the fourth trimester for things such as newborn care, family adjustment, and even meal preparation.

What’s life like with a doula? A doula can be a man or a woman. She will meet with you a few times before your birth to get to know you. A doula wants to understand you as person. She wants to know your goals and desires, as well as your fears. She will be your voice whether you’re in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home with a midwife. If you need to make a decision about something, a doula will give you the facts from every angle, so that you may be educated and empowered to make the decision you truly want to make.

doula, pregnancy, what is a doula, caregiver, childbirth, birthA doula will accompany a home birth or a hospital birth. The doula is there to support the pregnant woman only. A doula will not administer any medical tasks such as blood pressure or temperature. She will provide emotional and physical support. Some may say the partner of the woman is the support. While that is true, the doula offers a solid foundation of support so the partner can fully love and be attentive to the mother-to-be.

Below are a few tips from Haley Oakes shared with me. She’s attended numerous home births and hospital births and has even assisted on The Farm for a bit.

  • Don’t get out of bed unless to shower or pee in the first couple of weeks after baby is born. Think of yourself as a goddess and let others do things for you. Lay in bed with your baby, sleep when the baby does, and form the glue that will bond you forever by just being skin-to-skin all the time.
  • Eat and drink as much as you did when you were pregnant as that not only promotes healing but breast milk production, too. Happy mom, happy breasts, happy baby, happy mom.
  • Join a new-mom support group, even if you don’t think you have breastfeeding issues or want new friends. It’s a lovely routine to get out of the house (when baby is at least a few weeks old), meet up with new moms and be a part of a community of information, advice, and moral support.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.