In the past century, giving birth has gone from a close-knit, familial experience to an event heavily rooted in medical care. While this has led to wonderful improvements in the care and safety of mothers and their newborns, there’s something to be said for having more emotional support in the delivery room. Luckily, there’s a whole field of experienced professionals on the rise, and they’re prepared to provide you with the support that you or your loved ones may be looking for.
What is a doula?
Originally, the word doula (from the Greek doule) meant “female slave,” but today, its meaning is much more empowering. According to doula and pre-natal teacher Kimberleigh Weiss-Lewit, a doula is a person who provides expectant mothers and their families with emotional and physical support during their pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum experience. “We are non-medical professionals,” she explains, “and we seek to give families access to information and resources as they make decisions on their care. Doulas understand the natural course of birth, and are fully prepared to create space and time for the process to unfold.”
Research has shown that incorporating a doula at births leads to a better overall experience. According to a study conducted by the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto, “Continuous support during labour has clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants and no known harm.” This study of over 15,000 women found that when comparing various types of support offered—including family, friends, nurses, and other hospital staff—women with the support of a doula had the most positive outcomes.
How does a doula help?
The American Pregnancy Association states that first and foremost, “the goal of a doula is to help the mother experience a positive and safe birth, whether an un-medicated birth or a cesarean.” To accomplish this, doulas begin by developing a relationship with their clients during pregnancy. They create an environment in which a mother can “ask questions, express her fears and concerns, and take an active role in creating a birth plan.” When the time comes for labor and birth, the doula is called in and provides everything from relaxation techniques to massages in order to create a relaxing and calming environment. But the help doesn’t stop there. Once the baby is born, many doulas stay to help mothers and babies begin the latching and breastfeeding process.
In addition, doulas are always on call, so no matter when a baby decides to make his or her grand entrance, a doula is sure to be there. “Birth happens when it wants to and you literally never know when you will be called to support a family,” Weiss-Lewit explains. To help her cope with the on-call lifestyle, Weiss-Lewit also works with a partner, Lisa Acevedo of Tapestry Birth Collective. The benefit of having a doula duo means that in the event of an emergency, no expectant mother will be left without the support and encouragement she needs.
Ultimately, while using a doula may seem unconventional, it takes a special person to become one, and most are incredibly passionate about their work. When asked what drew her into the profession, Weiss-Lewit responded, “I was drawn to doula work for the opportunity to witness strength. Birth is life-affirming like nothing else, not only because you are there for the birth of a new little human (and man, are they cute!) but also because you bear witness to the birth of a family. It is a journey like no other and it renews my hope every time.”
So if you’re pregnant and looking for a way to make your experience as relaxing, calming, and encouraging as possible, you might want to consider incorporating a doula into your birth plan. Her presence might be just the thing you need to make your baby’s birth as stress-free as possible.