Happy World Doula Week! I could not let this week pass without honoring a profession I esteem so highly. Doulas are wonderful. Amazing. Necessary. And I think that there should be a doula at EVERY birth, but most especially at every FIRST birth. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Who needs a doula?
If you are planning a home birth, hire a doula.
Medicated hospital birth? Get a doula.
Birth center birth? You want a doula.
Planned Cesarean section? Doula!
Unmedicated hospital birth? Oh yes, doula.
Notice a trend here? “But Jessica, we’ve had babies before. We know what we are doing. We don’t need a doula.” To that I say, really? You know exactly how this birth is going to play out? One thing I can depend on birth to be: unpredictable. You just never know how things will go, which is why I think veteran parents should also get a doula.
What do doulas do that is so valuable? Oh, so many things! I’ll bet after I make this big long list you all will still know lots more things that doulas do, too. But here’s a start in no particular order:
They KNOW stuff. They know lots of ways to relieve pain and help optimally position baby and get labor going and help you cope. They know BIRTH and what is normal and what comes next and what to say to make you believe in yourself. They know birth PEOPLE and how to help you ask questions and advocate for yourself. They know birth PLACES and can run and get ice from the nourishment room in the hospital or where to park your car or find extra blankets or those throw-up bag thingies.
They DO stuff. Hello, hip compression! (Lots of mamas find this very helpful in labor.) Cold wash cloth? On it. Your partner needs a snack so they doesn’t keel over? Your doula can find or make one and take over labor duties while your partner eats or takes a shower so you aren’t smelling two-day-old partner during transition. Many doulas can help you establish breastfeeding and help you avoid bad latches and battered nipples. Doulas can hold a leg while you push (especially helpful for partners who want to stay by mama’s head), hold you up while you sink into a contraction, hold your toddler so she can see baby, hold your water bottle so you can get a sip as soon as the contraction is over, hold your birth space sacred so it is just the way you want it to be. Doulas are STRONG.
They help you prepare and debrief. Most doulas will meet with you prenatally at least once to get to know you and your birth plan and help get your mind into the place it needs to be to give birth. They will talk with you about previous birth experiences and hopes and worries and be a resource for you to ask “is this normal” or “who do you know who…” kinds of questions. And after your birth, they will come back and listen to you as you process your birth, and maybe fill in some details that you may have missed about the experience, or answer baby-feeding questions, or even throw a load of laundry in for you.
What DON’T doulas do? They don’t take the place of your partner. In fact, they allow partners to really fully enter into the experience and support you and enjoy the birth of their child. We didn’t hire a doula with my first baby (BIG regret) because my husband and I wanted it to be a special experience that just the two of us shared. You know what happened? He didn’t eat or drink or even use the bathroom (that I can remember) and shortly after baby came he got a migraine and went to sleep. If we had had a doula, she would have made sure he was taking care of himself so he could be really present in those hours after his daughter was born. We did have a doula with our second baby, and even though it was a super quick birth, my husband came away saying it was the best decision EVER to have her there. He enjoyed that birth so much more because our doula took care of all the things he would have been thinking about if she hadn’t been there.
Doulas also DON’T have their own objective for birth. Their main goal is for you to have the birth YOU want and to support your vision/hopes for this birth. Doulas are there to support you and your choices so that you feel satisfied with your birth experience.
There is a doula for every birthing person out there. Maybe you want a motherly, nurturing doula, or a hard-core suck-it-up-buttercup doula, or someone in between. The perfect doula for you is out there. And there is a doula for every budget out there. That is an important point. Don’t let money stop you from the immense benefits of having a doula at your birth.
I haven’t even talked about how valuable doulas are when things don’t go as planned! But that is huge! There is not a lot we can really control about birth. Things happen, plans get set aside, medications don’t always work; there are so many things you just can’t plan for. We all know how unpredictable birth can be (though we never think it can happen to US). But an experienced doula can help you navigate the new course your birth takes and make it as positive as possible.
I am not a doula, and though I have been to quite a few births and picked up a lot of knowledge along the way, I still have so much respect for what they bring to each birth they attend. When you are having your first baby and this whole world of pregnancy and birth and newborn is so NEW to you, it is amazing to have someone there who is specifically trained to support you through the transition to parenthood. And it makes me sad when I see soon-to-be parents alone (with their birth photographer) in a birthing place and feeling lost or overwhelmed or scared. I know there are statistics out there that quantify how much a doula improves birth outcomes and birth satisfaction. (I’m just too tired to google them right now.) It’s true. And your birth experience matters. Your feelings about your birth experience matter. Women who have negative feelings about their birth experience are more likely to have postpartum depression. That is a hard, hard way to begin parenthood. So why not set yourself up for the best experience possible, no matter how you choose to give birth or how your birth unfolds?
Here are some of the beautiful doulas I’ve had the honor of working with. See all that support? It’s a beautiful thing.