What is a doula?

by Misty When you make the decision to get pregnant, you know that at some point, you’re going to be pushing a little human being out of your body. The realization of this fact often hits home late in pregnancy:

“At around 8 months pregnant, I started to become anxious about the labour and birth process. What had I gotten myself into? Everywhere I turned there were horror stories about labour – all you needed to do was watch TLC for an afternoon, and you’d soon be thinking that every birth story is an emergency.”

Sound familiar? What if there were women out there who could tell you that birth can be exciting, magical, and really, not that bad!?  Good news! They exist, and they’re called doulas!

What’s a doula? I know, it’s a funny word. It essentially means “womanly servant.” A doula is someone who guides a woman and her partner through the birth of their child. In addition, doulas provide essential prenatal support and education, as well as postpartum wisdom to get you through those first hectic weeks.

Well, I have a midwife, so do I really need a doula? Midwives care for the medical aspect of your pregnancy and birth. Doulas have no medical role, and are entirely devoted to supporting, reassuring and comforting you and your partner. Midwives find doulas to be extremely helpful for their clients, as they are often busy with paperwork and monitoring.

But what can a doula do for me? Picture this: it’s 2am, and you’ve been woken up with mild cramping, which you’re timing at about 10min apart. It’s too early to call your midwife or go to the hospital, but you’re anxious and have a lot of questions. So you call your doula! She’ll chat with you over the phone and make suggestions, or come right over to your house if you need her. As contractions become more intense, a doula will give you a massage, do relaxation exercises with you, suggest position changes, and get you water and food if you so desire. She stays with you for your entire labour (even if it’s 24 hours!) and ensures you are comfortable and resting before she leaves.

I want an epidural, so I don’t need a doula Doulas can be supportive, regardless of whether you are planning to labour naturally or with the use of pharmaceuticals. You generally need to reach 4cm dilation before a hospital will administer an epidural, so there are quite a few hours where you will need to use alternative coping strategies for your pain. As well, doulas can reduce the increased risk of vacuum/forceps delivery or caesarean section by helping you change positions in bed.

My husband is going to be my birth coach A doula never replaces the role of a husband or partner. Even though you get to know and trust your doula, your hubby will help you to relax and feel safe. However, your partner is only human, and he will need to take breaks! A doula is there to provide some relief for Dad, and to help comfort and reassure him that things are progressing normally.

As long as women have been giving birth, doulas have been around to provide support – often they were a relative or good friend who had experienced childbirth themselves. Nowadays, we tend to live far away from our families, and fee-for-service doulas have taken their place. If the cost is prohibitive, consider creating a “doula fund” for your baby shower, find a doula-in-training or one that offers their services on a sliding scale.

If you’re pregnant and feeling anxious, turn off the TV and give a doula a call! Before you know it, you’ll be holding a little babe in your arms and saying “that wasn’t so bad!”

Misty is a local doula who lives in Orleans with her husband and 2yo daughter. She claims that birth is “not that bad.” You can find out more about her at www.chickadeechildbirth.com

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