Holding space for women,
Doulas empower through trusting love.
Baby pushes through folds of time
relaxing into a supported atmosphere.
Doulas protect the sacred space of birth.
As I dream of becoming a midwife and holding safe birth spaces in the midst of humanitarian disasters, I feel these present experiences working as a doula are preparing me for what is to come. Doulas tend the birth space and meet the mother’s needs. A doula’s eye for the bigger picture allows the birthing person to let go deeper into labor. Beautiful flow occurs when the birthing mother’s emotional, physical, spiritual needs are met gracefully at each moment during labor. A doula is a loving presence who believes in the birthing person and is calm and assured in the birthing process.
The doula’s role is to be with women throughout the process of childbirth. If you were to distill the role of a doula it comes down to quality of presence. Doulas consistent presence in the birthing room is proved to benefit the birthing woman (Hodnett 2016) (Green 2009). Amazingly, doulas presence even creates safer and healthier birth outcomes (Klaus 2010).
Doulas offer continuous labor support. The doula’s constant presence significantly benefits the laboring person. Studies show doulas’ presence can reduce interventions, shorten labors, lessen cesarean section rates and leaves the birthing person with positive perceptions of their birth in comparison to labors without doulas (Klaus 2010), (Campbell 2006), (Koumouitzes-Douvia 2006). During the continuous labor support doulas bring knowledge and wisdom of comfort measures and pain management techniques.
Advocating is another role of the doula. They assist parents in navigating the healthcare system. Parents become more conscious advocates for themselves in before, during, and after the birth. Often the advocate role of a doula becomes tricky when families expect doulas to protect them from hospital interventions. A doula does not provide medical advice but she does understand the variety of medical interventions. She effectively helps the couple ask clarifying questions and to get evidence based medicine (Simpkin 2014). The doula translates client preference into precise questions. Doulas help equip families to consciously move through the medical system, this helps birth be safer and more evidence-based.
Having a doula at birth can support the establishment of breastfeeding (Klaus & Kennell 2012). Breastfeeding is healthier for mom and baby. The mother’s breast milk creates antibodies for sickness, so breastfed babies get sick less (Dieterich 2016). Mothers who breastfeed have reduced rates of breast cancer later in life along with other positive health outcomes. There are many other positives to breastfeeding (Dieterich 2016). Doulas are wise labor companions who can smooth the journey to establishing healthy breastfeeding.
Lasly, doulas know a wide range of resources in the area. They know when and how to connect mothers to resources they need. This is helpful when mothers encounter a variety of issues during the childbearing year. Doula make referrals to childbirth education classes, lactation specialists, postpartum depression support groups and many other avenues of support (Breedlove 2005). Building a support network is easier with a doula involved.
To be a birth doula is to be fully present in the process of babies being born. The birthing person can lean into the doula’s presence and rest in the unwavering support. Again I dream. I envision safer more conscious birth spaces. These spaces acknowledge the sanctity of childbirth honoring this tremendous right of passage for mother and baby. Doulas are an ancient relic of supported female ritual around birth. May doulas continue to be with women protecting and loving them during the special time of birth.
Breedlove G. (2005). Perceptions of social support from pregnant and parenting teens using community-based doulas. Journal of Perinatal Education, 14(3), 15–22
Campbell D. A., Lake M. F., Falk M., & Backstrand J. R. (2006). A randomized control trial of continuous support in labor by a lay doula. Journal Obstetrics and Gynecologic Neonatal Nursing, 35(4), 456–464
Dieterich C., Felice J., O’Sullivan E., Rasmussen K., (2016) Breastfeeding and health outcomes for the mother-infant dyad. Pediatr Clin North Am. 60(1):31–48.
Green J, Hotelling B. A. (2009). Healthy birth practices from Lamaze International – #3: Bring a loved one, friend, or doula for continuous support. Pub Med.
Koumouitzes-Douvia J., & Carr C. A. (2006). Women’s perception of their doula support. Journal of Perinatal Education, 15(4), 34–40
Klaus M., & Klaus P. (2010). Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Founder’s Lecture: Maternity care re-evaluated. Breastfeeding Medicine, 5(1), 3–8
Klaus M, Kennell J, Klaus P. (2012) The doula book. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Weston J. (2016). Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database. (2):CD003766.
Simkin P., Amram, N, Klein, M., Mok H., Lindstrom K., Grant J., (2014). How Birth Doulas Help Clients Adapt to Changes in Circumstances, Clinical Care, and Client Preferences During Labor. J Perinat Educ 2014 Spring; 23(2): 96–103.