Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What is a Doula?

The word "doula" is Greek in origin, and has come to mean "woman helping woman" in childbirth. A doula is a non-medical labor support assistant. She provides a birthing woman with physical, emotional and informational support at childbirth, whether the birth takes place in a hospital, home, or childbirth center. Her primary concern is the mother, although she may also support other members of the family who are present. Doctors, nurses and midwives usually are not in a position to provide this continual support. As medical professionals who may be caring for more than one patient at a time, they cannot stay in the room with the mother. They also need to concentrate on the more clinical aspects of childbirth.

A doula's presence does not make a birth partner's presence unnecessary. To the contrary, a doula's presence frees the partner from certain aspects of concern and allows the partner to interact more closely with the birthing woman. A doula's purpose is to aid the mother in labor and help her have the birth experience she wants, thereby leaving her with a sense of empowerment and a beautiful, positive birth memory.



The Role of a Doula:

Most doula and client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. During this time, they establish a relationship that gives the mother complete freedom to ask questions, express fears and concerns, and take an active role in creating a birth plan. Most doulas make themselves available to the mother by phone to answer questions or explain any developments that may arise in pregnancy. Doulas do not provide any type of medical care. However, they are knowledgeable in the medical aspect of labor and birth so they can help their clients get a better understanding of procedures and complications that may arise in late pregnancy or during the birth process. During labor, doulas are in constant, close proximity to the mother at all times. They can provide comfort with pain relief techniques, such as breathing, relaxing, massage and laboring positions. Doulas also encourage participation from the partner and offer reassurance. A doula acts as a silent advocate for the mother, encouraging her in her desires for her birth. The goal of a doula is to help the mother have a positive and safe birth experience, whether the mother wants an un-medicated birth or is having a planned cesarean birth. After the birth, many birth doulas will spend a short time helping mothers begin the breastfeeding process and enoucourage bonding between the new baby and family members.

Today, many fathers are taking a more active role in the birth process, but some partners feel that this is a huge expectation, and would rather be able to enjoy the birth without having to stand in as labor coach. With a doula as a part of the birth team, a father can do whatever he feels comfortable with at each moment. Doulas can encourage the father to use comfort measures and can step in when he needs a break. Having a doula allows the father to be able to support his partner emotionally during labor and birth and also enjoy it himself without the pressure to remember everything he learned in childbirth class!

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