Doulas, who offer informational, physical and emotional support to women and families during the childbearing year, celebrate our profession in May. Doulas are one of your biggest fans for a healthy, normal pregnancy, birth and postpartum. The word "doula" comes from the Greeks meaning "woman servant" or "mothering the mother." The modern meaning is a professional, experienced person giving non-medical support in the maternity field. There are three types of doulas: antepartum, birth, and postpartum.
An Antepartum Doula is defined as a person who has achieved specific training that relates to assisting pregnant women who are classified as high risk, pregnant women who may or may not be on bedrest, or pregnant women with medical conditions necessitating the need for help. This assistance includes education and physical support such as bed rest assistance, sibling care, errands, meal preparation, home care, and emotional support. The antepartum doula has extensive knowledge and training in the area of high risk pregnancy support. (CAPPA)
A Postpartum Doula is defined as a woman who assists the new mother, baby, and the rest of her family after the birth of the baby. She offers education, companionship and nonjudgmental support during the postpartum fourth trimester . She assists with newborn care, family adjustment, meal preparation and light household tidying. The postpartum doula offers evidence-based information on infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents and makes appropriate referrals when necessary. (DONA & CAPPA)
A Birth/Labor Doula is defined as a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth. The certified doula is trained to deliver emotional support from home to hospital, ease the transition into the hospital environment, and to be there through changing hospital shifts and alternating provider schedules. The doula serves as an advocate, labor coach, and information source to give the mother and her partner the added comfort of additional support throughout the entire labor. There are a variety of titles used by women offering these kinds of services such as "birth assistant," "labor support specialist" and "doula". It is important to know that it is not necessary to want a natural birth to hire a birth/labor doula, they support all kinds, even epidural & cesarean births. (DONA & CAPPA)
A few years ago, when childbirth educators asked pregnant women how many of them knew what a doula was, maybe two out of about 25 in the class would raise their hands. Today almost all the hands go up. Doulas are fast becoming a mainstay of labor and birth support. Maybe it is because low-risk, expecting couples feel like they need to fight for a non-medicalized birth in a hospital. Maybe it is because we live in such a transient society, that we do not benefit from being around our experienced, supportive families anymore. Regardless of the reason, doulas are becoming a worthwhile option. The profession has gone from a luxery service to almost a necessity. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers found that women who had used doulas had shorter labors and fewer cesarean births. Recent research shows women who have doula support also have increased rates of breastfeeding, more positive mother-infant relationships and greater satisfaction with their birth experience.
Use of doulas is on the rise, which accounts for the growth of DONA International, the world’s oldest and largest doula association. They have grown to more than 6,100 professional doula members today in 20 countries around the globe, up from 750 in 1994. Also, from the CAPPA website www.cappa.net :
"In 1998, with nothing but determination and a dream, Donna Johnson and Tracy Wilson Peters created CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association), the childbirth educator and labor doula certifying organization. If you asked them if they knew it would become the fastest growing certifying organization available, they would tell you they 'are pleasantly surprised'."
To sum it up, doulas will usually be the first to arrive to your assistance, doulas have a much needed objective viewpoint into your care, doulas do not have to focus on the medical/clinical side of your care, and doulas provide many options and alternatives, along with the medical advice from your doctor or midwife, in order to give you the full spectrum of information for informed consent/refusal. Talk to a doula today!