I am pregnant for the first time, and I keep hearing about "doulas." Can you explain to me what a doula is?
A doula is a Greek word, loosely translated to mean "woman’s servant" or "minister to the woman." It has come to refer to professional labor and/or postpartum support for the birthing family. A doula is trained and experienced in the emotional, psychological and physiological process of birth. A birth doula does not replace your doctor or midwife, and will not do vaginal exams or check your blood pressure. Many doulas are trained and certified by national certifying bodies that require on-going education and experience to maintain certification. These doulas agree to Standards of Practice and Codes of Ethics.
Often, a birth doula’s work with you will include prenatal visits to discuss the birth and get to know your priorities. She may utilize and be trained in birth art, meditation, birth hypnosis, relaxation, massage for labor, aromoatherapy, lactation, and other modalities. Many doulas will come to your home in early labor and assist you to labor at home and with confidence and support. If you are birthing in a hospital or birth center, she will then go with you and continue to support you there. She will help remind you and your partner of your birth plans and alternatives, but she will not speak on your behalf. The doula’s role is to look out exclusively for your emotional well being and she often sees herself as a protector of the mother’s memories of the birth.
Although you may think a doula is hired just to support the laboring woman, many partners say they valued their doula’s presence tremendously, increasing their confidence and their ability to be emotionally present with the laboring woman. When a couple has hired a doula, the partner doesn’t have to remember everything he heard in childbirth class. Doulas encourage and support your partner’s participation, recognizing how important your partner’s support is to the future of your relationship and the health of your family. The doula is an invaluable resource in planning for your birth, assisting you in assessing the alignment of your provider/place of birth and your birth plan, being a knowledgeable and calming presence for you and your partner from your early contractions, though birth and early breastfeeding.
Postpartum doulas come to your home and assist you in the early days of parenting. Most are well educated in lactation, normal variations for post delivery mothers and newborns. They will often assist with breastfeeding, newborn care, the care and feeding of the new mother, errands, laundry and helping the new parents get some much needed rest.
It’s a good idea to meet a few doulas before hiring one, to compare and contrast, noting with whom you find yourself feeling most comfortable for this most sacred event in your lives. Doulas vary in experience, specialty, fees, and styles. It is said there is the perfect doula for every laboring couple. Go to www.DONA.org for a list of questions to ask when interviewing a doula, and referrals to local doulas. Go to www.fullcirclebirth.com for more information on birth and postpartum doulas in the Los Angeles area.
Renee Christine Mandala, M.A. CD (DONA) is a Certified Birth and Postpartum doula. She holds a Master's Degree in Spiritual Psychology with an emphasis in Consciousness, Health & Healing. Renee provides heart-centered care through the transformational journey of birth and early parenthood. She is currently undergoing cerification with the UCLA Lactation Educator Program.