To be sure you get the kind of help you need in labor, you might want to consider having a doula. The ancient Greek word “doula” means “woman servant”. Nowadays, it refers a woman who is professionally trained as childbirth assistant, who provides emotional, physical, informational support, as well as non-clinical advice during pregnancy, labor and soon after birth. It helps to have reassurance from experts who can help you relate the intense physical sensations and emotions to what you already know intellectually.
Nurses, doctors and midwives can offer some guidance, but they may be limited by their clinical duties and the needs of other laboring women in their care. Doulas don’t work as midwives and they aren’t nurse practitioners.
Doulas serve as labor coaches and advocates for you, the laboring woman, as well as your partner.
Doulas often meet with you before labor to learn your preferences regarding the use of pain medication and also to talk about any concerns or fears you may have. She can help you overcome your fears related to labor, birth and motherhood in general. During labor, she can help you accomplish your wishes and make adjustments if unexpected complications arise.
Doulas provide constant, uninterrupted support throughout labor and delivery, with no breaks (that is, unless you are sleeping), no shift changes, no clinical responsibilities or other women to care for. Her knowledge and experience reassure you as she guides you in breathing techniques, massage, suggestions for position changes and relaxation techniques. She uses a wide range of comfort measures and coping techniques such as the use of bath, shower, birth ball, hot and cold packs and even aromatherapy.
The continuous assistance of a doula throughout labor has been shown to improve both the physical and the physiological well-being of the mother. By reducing stress, doulas reduce a woman’s need for pain relief medications. Women supported by a doula during labor have been shown to have close to a 60% reduction in epidural requests. In hospitals with high cesarean rates (above 25%), a doula’s presence lowers the chances of a cesarean by 50%. The rates of other interventions, such as the use of forceps is reduced 40%, as Pitocin (or oxytocin) use is reduced by about 40% also. Women who have a doula present during labor and delivery have been shown to have shorter labors. Labors can be possibly reduced by about 25% (or close to 3 hours). In addition, women’s satisfaction with their birth experience, postpartum physiological state, success in breastfeeding and interactions with their newborn are improved.