Doulas: Don’t Give Birth Without One!

April 7, 2011 § 4 Comments

Even if your partner is the most engaged, informed, gooey, gushing, birth-lovin’ hippie daddy-to-be; even if your midwife or ob is completely in tune with your birth philosophy; even if you’re having a homebirth; even if you met all the nurses at your hospital and think they’re all awesome—hire a birth doula!

My Husband Is Really Supportive…

It’s crazy that in our current birth culture it is generally expected that a birthing woman’s partner will be her only constant labor support.  For first-time parents, a partner knows even less of what’s going on with a mother’s body and baby than she does.  Yet they are expected to support her when she feels fearful or insecure about what’s next on their journey into the unknown.

Your partner’s role is to love you unconditionally and to be the guardian of the birth.  One of the core intentions of the class I teach is to help partners learn to create a safe environment for the laboring mother and to develop skills for marshaling support for her birth intentions among medical support staff.  Love and safety are critical to a mother’s birth journey, but are not the sum total of what a birthing mother needs to be adequately supported during labor.

Some partners are reluctant to invite another person into the mix because they fear they’ll be pushed aside.  Yet every husband I’ve met (including my own) who had a doula at his baby’s birth, highly recommends a doula to every dad-to-be he knows.  A doula loves her job, she loves supporting mothers during birth, and yet she cannot love the woman in labor the same way that a partner does.

We don’t have the money for a doula…

A doula is a financial expense that many first-time parents don’t think they can afford.  It’s important to put that upfront cost into context and consider these benefits of having a doula present at your birth:

  • 50% reduction in the cesarean rate
  • 25% shorter labor
  • 60% reduction in epidural requests
  • 40% reduction in oxytocin use
  • 30% reduction in analgesia use
  • 40% reduction in forceps delivery

If you have a vaginal rather than cesarean birth you will experience a shorter and less painful physical recovery, less time in the hospital, an easier transition to bonding with your baby, and a lower risk for future births and for your health later in life.  Hiring a doula also improves breastfeeding outcomes for mother and baby.  Even if a breastfeeding mother buys bottles and a top-of-the-line pump to express some of her own milk, she could save $1000 in the first year over the cost of formula.  That savings alone could justify the cost of a doula.

My midwife/ob is great…

Birth can feel like a crazy, confusing, unfamiliar journey.  Your midwife/ob will not be present through most of your labor.  You cannot choose your nurse, and even if she is awesome, her shift will end, and you are never her only mom in labor.  A doula is a knowledgeable woman whose sole purpose is to provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support.  Mothers who hire doulas report feeling more positively about their birth experience.  How a woman feels about her birth has a significant impact on the health and happiness of her family even months after the birth.

I’m having an epidural/induction/scheduled cesarean anyway…

Babies sometimes don’t get the memo about your scheduled induction or cesarean birth.  And as many as 15% of epidurals don’t provide the pain relief they are intended to.

If you go into labor spontaneously before your scheduled induction or cesarean birth, you will be grateful for your doula’s experience.  Until and unless an epidural takes effect, you will be grateful for your doula’s tool bag.  As you and your partner navigate hospital policies and procedures, you will be grateful for your doula’s constant presence.

Also, studies have shown that at least part of the reason women who give birth naturally are more likely to express satisfaction with their birth experience is because of the continual labor support from a doula these women are more likely to seek out.

Ok, how do I find one…

Before you hire a doula, you should interview at least two or three to make sure you’re hiring someone you connect with and who will honor your birth intentions.  I am not a doula, though I do attend a handful of births each year as part of my childbirth mentor program.  The largest organization that certifies doulas is www.DONA.org.  Birthing From Within, the organization where I receive my training, also has a doula training program that you should check out (www.BirthingFromWithin.com).  The best resource for finding a birth doula in Westchester is www.HudsonValleyBirthNetwork.com.

My doula story…

Here’s something I wrote about my doula for www.doulamatch.net shortly after my second son’s birth:

Debbie had attended my first son Paxton’s birth, where we faced a 35 hour emergency induction for which we were totally unprepared.  She was incredible in her ability to support me with suggestions, calmness, massage, electric candles, knowledge and the stability my husband Eric needed to be able to support me at each increasingly medicalized stage of labor.  Without her support Paxton may not have been born pain drug-free—and Eric may not have survived emotionally.

My second son Levon was born at home.  During his gentle 21.5 hour birth Debbie assisted us with a different set of skills.  She helped do absolutely anything that would make Eric or I more comfortable.  She massaged my spine and lower back during every contraction with one of her cool tools.  And she pitched in with laundry, making beds and setting up the birthing tub—anything that was helpful to Eric and I.  She also snapped a bunch of terrific photos of Levon’s first moments in our arms that we will always treasure.

Eric tells every expectant father the most important thing to do is hire a doula!

For more information and history about doulas, watch this video:

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§ 4 Responses to Doulas: Don’t Give Birth Without One!

  • Julietta says:

    As a birth doula for more than three decades (WHOA, when did THAT happen??), I love reading about how wonderful couples think we are! And I loved reading the latest statistics (I can always count on you to to be up to speed, Victoria) on the benefits of doulas. Makes you wonder why, if it saves so much money on birth, insurance companies don’t pay for every birthing woman to have one.

    I do want to say, for the record, that I do not dance with my laboring women! The video was good, but honestly, did they have to include THAT part? Makes us look like a bunch of woo-woo hippie priestesses, when we are really trained professionals. Not that there is anything wrong with the Divine Feminine…. ;-)

  • […] Doulas bring tools, training and experience to your labor including the ability to relieve discomfort with massage and acupressure. […]

  • […] night for weeks to help myself fall asleep, so it came easily to mind.  The back massaging was my doula’s idea.  She always had great ideas of things I didn’t even know I wanted during […]

  • Citizen Mama says:

    There’s one important point I neglected to include in this piece. Childbirth is a journey into the unknown. A woman may be having a normal healthy labor, but it will feel like nothing she’s experienced before. Sometimes the most valuable thing the continuous presence of a doula offers is reassurance that what a mother is experiencing is normal, healthy, and helping her body and baby to birth.

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