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What the Heck is a Birth Doula?

4 min read

"What do you do for a living?"

I'm a doula

"You do a what?"

I'm a birth doula...

Nine times out of ten, that's how a conversation starts after meeting someone new. I quickly realized I needed an elevator pitch to explain what I do for a living - because it's clearly more difficult than it once was when I was teaching first grade. I've given the famous pitch to my Dad a few times, yet he continues to tell people I deliver babies. 🙈

I don't deliver babies! I'm a birth doula. A birth coach. An expecting Mom's best friend.

The pitch goes something like this... As your doula, I work by your side to make your birth experience as seamless and memorable as possible - kind of like a wedding planner would do for a wedding. During your pregnancy, we'll work together to plan your birth, discuss all of your options, possible interventions, methods for pain management, etc. We can even plan for your fourth trimester (after your baby's arrival), which includes anything from self-care, breastfeeding, managing visitors, receiving meals, or even how your family & friends can help around the house. These are all things you may not necessarily realize the importance of planning. The goal is to make parents feel prepared, so they enter labor and birth full of confidence.

After explaining the basics, it's not so uncommon to hear "But isn't that her partner's job?"

A woman's partner is an irreplaceable piece to her birth puzzle. The comfort of her partner's voice, touch, and smell is priceless. As a doula, I'm there to foster their relationship and encourage the flow of birth by providing physical, emotional, and educational support for both Mom and her partner. This dynamic is another factor we plan for and discuss in prenatal meetings; what roles both her partner and I will have. Trust me when I say that your partner wants to support you during labor, but it can be overwhelming for them to understand both what your body is going through and know how to help in that very moment. It's my job to communicate the current stages of labor, what to expect next, and how we can provide comfort together. I coach a birth partner through supporting Mom in beneficial positions, as well as the importance of implementing breaks for everyone to rejuvenate. I'm not only there for Mom. 😉

Often times, too, families expect their nurses or midwives to provide the support that doulas offer...

Well, L&D nurses only spend 31% of their shift in a patient's room. Only 13% of that time is spent providing supportive care during active labor. The remainder of their time in her room is spent checking vitals and doing necessary administrative work. The same goes for midwives. At a birth center, they will often have other women in labor to care for. Also, it's likely you'll experience one or more shift changes during labor. Right when you get in the groove with a nurse or midwife, it's time for her to leave and be replaced by another. It's my job to always be there.

So in summary, what do I do as a doula?

Most women wish for both emotional and physical support from me during labor. In this case, my job is to keep her in the present moment, focusing on one contraction at a time. I'll provide hip squeezes, massage, counter pressure, offer food and water, suggest appropriate position changes for optimal fetal positioning, and rest. Again, her partner and I can share each of these roles. Whether she chooses a medicated or unmedicated birth, constant support and reassurance makes a world of difference.

With continuous labor support provided by a doula, women experience a 28% decrease in risk of unplanned cesarean, 31% decrease in a medicated induction, and 34% decrease in being dissatisfied with their birth experience. When I first came across this stat, I was absolutely shocked. It's incredible how much the support of one person can influence your birth experience! But after personally supporting a few families in labor, it made so much sense. The comfort, confidence, and empowerment in both Mom and her partner has left me speechless every time.