Having a Doula is more popular now than ever before. Part mother''s assistant, part birthing coach, doulas are showing up in delivery rooms and quickly becoming an important part of the maternity healthcare team. Recent studies have shown that the use of a Doula results in improved physical outcomes and emotional well-being of a mother and her infant. JustMommies.com sat down with Cheryl K. Baker, Founder of Birth Partners. Cheryl is a twenty-nine year veteran of the labor room, a DONA certified Labor Doula, a Certified Bradley Educator and a Certified Lactation Educator from UCLA. She has been a birth attendant for hundreds of births and is going to fill us in on everything we need to know about Doulas…
JustMommies:For those of us who don’t know ~ what exactly is a Doula?
Cheryl:A Doula is a professional trained in childbirth who will help the family through their birth process. A Doula’s goal is to empower, educate and support a woman, so that she can have a positive pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum experience.
Doula services include informational, physical and emotional support:
- Education about the birth process
- Explanation of medical procedures and interventions
- Addressing all questions, fears and concerns
- Help with preparation of a birth plan and goals for the birth
- Massage and other non-pharmacological pain relief measures
- Guided relaxation techniques
- Body positioning and movement suggestions
- Birth ball use
- Positive assurances, advice during pregnancy
- Support for the partner during the delivery process
- Breastfeeding support
JustMommies:What are some proven benefits of Doula care?
Cheryl:Studies have shown that having a Doula during labor…
- Decreases cesareans
- Shortens labor, with fewer complications
- Decreases the need for pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction
- Decreases the need for epidurals
- Reduces levels of anxiety
- Enhances the maternal/infant bond
JustMommies:How do you find a good Doula?
Cheryl:One way is to ask your Obstetrician. If your Obstetrician is Doula-friendly ~ he or she may have already worked with a really amazing Doula in the community. That would be the first place to start. Your childbirth educator is also another good resource. I would also check with your friends. If they’ve used a Doula, they might recommend the person who helped them. You can also check out the DONA website (Doulas of North America). They have a ton of great resources and Doulas listed in your area.
JustMommies:You mentioned a “Doula-friendly” Obstetrician. Is there some skepticism with nurses and doctors about Doulas?
Cheryl:Yes and no. There are some wonderful Doulas out there that know what their scope of practice is. A Doula is not there to diagnose any medical problems. We are really there to provide physical and emotional support for the family. Knowing what our boundaries are is very important. The doctors and nurses perform all the medical tasks and we should not overstep their space and try to interfere with what they are doing. There are some nurses who are still skeptical about Doulas. I think over the years, they are getting more comfortable with seeing Doulas in the hospitals and are welcoming the Doulas. There are some doctors that do like to medically manage labors or have their own agenda. Those are the ones that don’t like to be questioned and having somebody there that is providing support and information to the family, might be contrary to what they want.
JustMommies:So, Doulas do not replace the nursing staff?
Cheryl:Absolutely not. We all work together as a team. When a Doula and a nurse are working together and you have a nurse that is comfortable with a Doula ~ the moms are going to have a much better experience. Our goal is to make sure there is a safe delivery. Whether it’s a vaginal birth or a cesarean birth- it doesn’t really matter. Having the mom feel confident and comfortable with her team is very important.
JustMommies:How do you become a Doula?
Cheryl:There are some wonderful training programs. DONA is one of the most recognized organizations that certify Doulas. You can go onto the website and find out when and where their trainings are going to be. I happen to be a Doula mentor as well, so I take new Doulas with me sometimes to births and they get more hands on experience. It’s really seeing what labor is like, attending childbirth classes, learning about breast-feeding support, etc.
JustMommies:Doulas seem to be an important part of a mother’s support system. Do husbands or significant others feel a little unnecessary?
Cheryl:Not at all. We work together. The husband has a different kind of bond with that woman. They bring a different element into that relationship. Doulas are there to allow that person to participate at whatever level they are comfortable with. For some families, due to religious reasons, the husbands are not allowed in the delivery room. So, a Doula would become even more important for that family. If everyone is working as a team, then the dads are going to look really good at the end of the day!
JustMommies:What is the difference between a Doula and a Midwife?
Cheryl:A midwife works like an Obstetrician. They provide the medical care, the pre-natal care, and do the actual delivery. One of the ways we look at it… the Doulas are on the North end of the table, the Midwives are on the South end.
JustMommies:Are Doulas responsible for any of decision making?
Cheryl:No. It is the family’s place to make all decisions related to a mother’s care and treatment. A Doula can provide information, but we can’t make choices for that family. It is really important for the woman to take that responsibility.
JustMommies:How do Doulas practice?
Cheryl:Many Doulas are in private practice and will meet the clients in their home initially and then work with them from there. I have a very unique practice because I have partnered up with Liz from Birth and Beyond (who is a nurse and a childbirth educator) and we have put together a Childbirth Education Center. We also have other partners within the group, so we all back each other up. Most Doulas have back up coverage in case they are with another mother in labor. We always make sure the family is taken care of. I recommend finding a Doula or starting to interview as soon as you are sure your pregnancy is going well. I think it’s important to start formulating an idea on how you want your birth to be and how your Doula can help you with that. The sooner you contract with a Doula, you start establishing a relationship with her and by the time you get to labor, you’re going to feel very comfortable. She’s going to be spending more hours with you than the nurses or the doctors.
JustMommies:No wonder Doulas are in demand. What an amazing service you provide!
Cheryl:I think every family should take advantage of having a Doula with them. As you can see, there are so many positive effects on the mother and the baby. Finding a Doula you feel comfortable with is key. This is someone you are going to share a lot of hours with and I think it’s important for everybody to feel safe with that person. You don’t want someone who is going to tell you what to do, but to advise you on proper care, prenatal testing, physicians, comfort techniques, massage, etc.… things that will really benefit the mother during this incredible experience.
For more info on our expert, Cheryl K. Baker, please visitwww.birthandbeyond.net.