There’s something really comforting about being surrounded by other women who support you, care about you, and understand what you’re going through during pregnancy. If you’re able to lean on your mom, a sister, a best friend, or a group of women close to you, that’s an incredibly fortunate thing to have.
However, not everyone has easy and immediate access to these powerful support networks. So… what about hiring someone to be there for you? It can sound like a weird concept to some, but doulas (which literally translates to women’s servant in Greek) have been around for centuries to serve this exact purpose.
Before the advent of modern medicine, women didn’t have an arsenal of doctors, specialists, and midwives surrounding them: they just had other women. Obviously, they couldn’t provide the specialized medical care and expertise of medical professionals, but they provided powerful emotional and physical support, and the value of that supportive care is still relevant today.
You may have read about celebrities seeking out doulas during their pregnancy (most recently the lovely Duchess Meghan Markle), and you may be asking yourself “Do I need a doula, too?”. As with almost all of your decisions in pregnancy, it all depends on your individual needs and goals for your birth and postpartum experience. It is, and should be, a very personal decision, and there’s no one right way.
We’re here to give you all the facts so you can make the best choice for yourself and your family. Here’s what you can expect from working with a doula:
5 Things To Expect from Your Doula
Consistent emotional support
Emotional support is so important during your pregnancy and birth, and that’s why doulas have been an asset to women for so long—they can be a valuable addition to your support system.
Doulas are not medical professionals, but they are professionally trained to provide physical, emotional, and informational support to new and expecting mothers, so they know their stuff. Of course, you’ll want to do your research and find someone with experience and recommendations that you trust and respect.
We hope you already have people in your life supporting you, but if you’re in a position where your support system may not be available or consistent at all times, having a doula can ensure that someone is in place to be there with you every step of the way.
If you do have a strong support network, you may wonder: will a doula actually make a difference? Science seems to think so: studies have suggested that continuous support was most effective when the person providing support was not part of the woman’s medical team, social circle, or family. This is by no means saying that those people aren’t a crucial part of your life—but it suggests that a doula may provide something additional that your BFF can’t.
Birth plans & drug-free pain management strategies
Once you’ve signed on to work with a doula, they’ll help you mentally and emotionally prepare for birth and develop a birth plan that feels right to you, and this can give you a lot of peace of mind as you get closer to your due date.
If you’re considering having a natural birth, then working with a doula could be a great way to help you out. They’re trained to help you manage pain without drugs, and this support starts well before you give birth, so you know exactly what to expect when the big day comes.
You’ll learn the best positions for labor and effective breathing techniques, so you can start to manage pain early. A doula will have plenty of tricks up her sleeve, too—some people even call their strategies “doula magic.” She’ll try things like massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, and counter pressure, and see what works best for you and your body.
Minimal medical intervention
If your goal is in fact to have a natural birth, you’re probably hoping to keep medical intervention as minimal as possible. Again, doulas are not medical professionals and should not have a say in what’s medically safe or the best practice for your health situation.
That said, doulas are trained to recognize symptoms, and they can help spot possible complications earlier on than you might on your own so you can seek appropriate medical assistance and potentially reduce medical intervention down the line. They’re basically your childbirth wing-woman—they’ve got your back, and if they’re good at their job, then they really know their stuff.
But they’re more than just really smart cheerleaders—having a doula support you during birth could help reduce medical intervention during childbirth. This study analyzed several trials involving over 15,000 women, and those with continuous support (which a doula can help provide) were more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth and shorter labor. They were also less likely to need C-sections or develop complications like intrapartum analgesia, preeclampsia, or a baby with a low Apgar score. That said, the study focused on continuous support – which can be provided by a team of family, friends, and medical professionals – it does not require a doula to be present.
Support for you and your partner
If you’re pregnant (or have been pregnant), you probably know that it’s easy for your partner to get a bit… lost sometimes. It can be tough for them to really understand what you’re feeling. That can be frustrating for you—but it’s frustrating for them, too! A good doula can be really useful in bridging this gap: they’ll provide you both with info while showing you how to best understand and support each other, and this will help make you a stellar team, both in pregnancy and in parenthood.
Doulas can support your partner during and before birth, too, so they’ll know exactly how to support you when the big day comes. This is good for you—and good for your partner. With someone supporting them and helping them feel involved, your partner will be an integrated part of the process, and you’ll enter parenthood on the same page—which will be useful when you’re trading off late-night feedings and diaper changes!
Care after you give birth
The postpartum period is unlike any other, and it can be really, really hard. Many new parents don’t expect the challenges of the first several weeks or months — and that’s where a doula comes in (yet again!). Special postpartum doulas provide emotional support during the transitional period, and they’ll take some household tasks off your plate to give you a chance to actually get some sleep (Hallelujah!).
They can also help with one of the hardest adjustments for new moms: breastfeeding. Doulas are commonly also certified lactation consultants, but this is something to look out for if you decide to work with a doula.
A doula can be there to lend a resourceful ear, too. Your doula will give you info on normal newborn behavior and can provide additional advice for any concerns you have. They’ll help you adjust to the big life change that motherhood brings, and they’ll work to support your whole family as you adjust together.
So, is this whole doula thing for you? Having one may be especially valuable if you’re over 35, at a higher risk for complications, or are passionate about having a natural, drug-free birth. If this is your first pregnancy and you want more emotional and informational support to get you through birth and postpartum, then a doula could be a good choice, too.
Doulas may help you get through birth drug-free, but remember–there’s absolutely no shame in taking drugs and medication during labor. Every woman experiences pregnancy, labor, and birth differently, and for some women, going sans-epidural simply isn’t an option. Requiring medical intervention or drugs during birth is a normal experience and it’s not your fault. If things don’t go according to plan, that is absolutely OK, and you’ll want to turn to your team of medical professionals to help you make the best decisions for you and your baby.
When you bring a doula into your pregnancy experience, it’s so important that you find someone who works well with you and becomes part of your team. Because remember, at the end of the day, you call the shots. It’s about finding people that support you.
You know your body best, and it’s up to you to make the best decision for yourself. You’ve got this — and of course, Baby2Body will be here to keep supporting you the whole way, too.
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