Pregnancy is a special time in a woman's life, especially if it's her first time becoming a mom. While pregnancy and childbirth are beautiful experiences, they can also be confusing, conflicting and downright scary! For women who desire a little guidance and companionship during pregnancy, a doula is there to help.
The word "doula" is ancient Greek for "a woman who serves," and now is the word for a woman who is professionally trained to provide physical and emotional support to a pregnant woman. Most doulas are involved in the actual birthing process, but other doulas serve strictly during the postpartum period as well.
A birth doula assists the pregnant woman in preparation and execution of her plans for the birth. She stays with the woman during labor and helps with communication between the laboring woman, her partner and the clinical care providers. In addition to providing the pregnant woman with the information she needs to make informed decisions about her pregnancy, she also acts as an advocate for the new mom. A doula's goal is to help the mother experience a positive and safe birth, whether unmedicated or cesarean.
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The relationship between most doulas and the expecting woman begins a few months before the baby's due date. During this time, the soon-to-be mom can ask questions and express her qualms or fears to the doula, who will offer advice and reassurance. During the actual delivery of the baby, the doula stays in close proximity to the laboring mother. Some women find a doula's constant presence comforting; some doctors, nurses and other clinical care providers are not present during the entire delivery of the baby. Not only can the doula provide you with emotional support and reassurance, but she can also practice pain relief techniques, massages, breathing techniques and helpful laboring positions in order to make sure the laboring mother is as comfortable as possible.
After the actual birth, the doula will stick around for a few months, which is where the duties of the birth doula and the postpartum doula overlap.
A postpartum doula provides education, companionship and nonjudgmental support during the first few postpartum months. She helps with newborn care, family adjustment and even meal prep! She gives evidence-based information on infant feeding, as well as emotional and/or physical recovery, infant soothing and coping skills. She knows firsthand what it's like having a newborn around, especially for the first time, and can comfort you as a tired, emotional and new mother. She can even help with breastfeeding and encouraging bonding between family members and the new baby.
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Whether or not you should hire is up to you. Many women report a more positive pre- and postpartum experience with the help of a doula, but that doesn't mean it's for everyone. If you do decide to go with a doula, ask if she's able to encapsulate your placenta. Many women choose to "eat" their placenta in capsule form during the first couple months of giving birth in order to get a high dose of nutrients and reduce their risk for postpartum depression.
For more information about doulas, check out our sources: American Pregnancy Association, DONA International.