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Labor Support and the Role of Doulas

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Like most pregnant women, you probably fantasize about what awaits you during labor and birth. While no labor is perfect, one of the best ways to make it a positive experience is to have people with you who will meet your physical, emotional, and informational needs. These people might include your partner, your mother, or your best friend. 

You could also hire a professional labor-support person, called a doula, to be with you and your family. A doula is a woman who is trained to help women through labor. She's a part of your birthing team, along with you, your partner, family members, your physician or midwife, and your nurse.

  The Benefits of a Doula

  What Doulas Do

  Finding the Right Doula

The Benefits of a Doula

Throughout history, mothers-to-be have had women helping them during labor and birth. And now studies around the world document what women have known for centuries: Labor support offers many benefits for moms and babies. Among these benefits are: 

• shorter labors

• decreased anxiety and tension

• decreased need for pain medication or anesthesia

• fewer complications

• decreased interventions (such as the use of anesthesia or forceps) and Cesarean births

• increased positive feelings about labor

• greater self-esteem and sense of control

• stronger bonding between mother and baby

What Doulas Do

A good doula supports your wishes for your labor and birth. She understands all the physical and emotional aspects of labor and can provide you with information you need as your labor progresses. She's nurturing and comforting, and she's well versed in techniques that can help ease the pain and discomfort of labor. For example, she might suggest a new position, offer a massage, or lead you through a special relaxation technique like patterned breathing. 

It's important to understand that a doula is not a trained medical caregiver; she does not give medication or make medical decisions. But she is a part of the birthing team and can offer you the individual attention and support you need throughout your labor and delivery. She can also help you with breastfeeding after the baby is born and can make visits to your home after you leave the hospital to see how you and the baby are doing.

Finding the Right Doula

If you'd like to hire a doula, ask your caregiver, childbirth educator, hospital, or friends for referrals, and meet a few candidates in person. (After all, this is someone you'll be relying on in a time of need, so you'll want to get a feel for her bedside manner.) Begin your search at the beginning of the third trimester to give yourself plenty of time. When hunting for a doula, ask the following questions to help determine whether a particular person is right for you: 

  • What is her training and experience with birth? (She should be certified through a national organization such as Doulas of North America.)
  • What is her philosophy about supporting mothers and fathers during labor? 
  • What types of things will she do for you in labor?
  • Does she have a positive working relationship with the hospital where you plan to give birth?
  • Will she be available at the time of your due date?
  • Does she have backup if she isn't able to attend your birth?
  • What are her fees? (Cost varies from region to region.)

For more information about doulas or to locate one in your area, visit the Web site of Doulas of North America (DONA).  

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