I can’t overstate the importance of experienced support during and after birth. I try to keep my mouth shut when I hear someone say they don’t need a doula during labor or don’t have extra help for after the baby is born or don’t need to talk to a lactation consultant about nursing. I always think, “Well… maybe she’ll be fine…” And almost every time, when I hear about the result, I kick myself for not speaking up.
Birth is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Husbands, mothers, and best friends are wonderful and helpful, but they do not have the benefit of hundreds or thousands of hours of assisting at births. Certainly, if you are attempting an unmedicated birth, you will want some serious support, but I believe any birth in a hospital setting can benefit tremendously from someone who knows the ropes and is there for you only. (Click here for a fact sheet to share with your healthcare provider about how the presence of a doula benefits the whole care team. In the case of Cesarean surgery, see EvidenceBasedBirth.com’s “A doula facilitates skin-to-skin in the operating room.”)
A good doula knows what you need before you do.
I can think of a hundred examples of why my doula, Julie, was so essential to my wonderful birth experience, but here’s just one: when I was several hours into labor, I’d figured out that rocking in my rocking chair seemed to alleviate the pain of contractions. My sister-in-law/birthing partner Rebekah and I both were thrilled that I was getting along so well. But you know what my doula said when she walked in on this scene? She said, “It hurts less because you’re stalling labor. Do you want to prolong this, or get it over with?” Of course, she was right, and as soon as I got out of the chair and into the forward position she suggested, labor picked right back up, escalating until we left for the hospital two hours later. Had she not said something, I would have happily sat there all day, wasting more and more energy and time and thinking I had this labor thing whipped.
What else did she do? Julie knew how to massage me when I literally couldn’t speak; when I puked, she cleaned up my face and tied my hair in a bun that lasted all day; she knew the nurses at the hospital so that my birth plan was prioritized during delivery; she told me where I was during the phases of labor (which I wanted to know, but was unable to articulate); she guided my hands down to hold Henry as he was being born. And I will be forever grateful to her for making sure that – just in case – photos were taken of the birth, something I’d forgotten to plan for.
Most important, she was one of the main reasons I got through a natural birth. She was able to guide me right through the process with confidence, and I trusted her to do so. I will say this: I would not have had an unmedicated, natural birth without Julie’s guidance. No question. Does that tell you how important she was?
I don’t mean to discount other support. Rebekah and Julie made a great team. While Julie was assisting me during vomiting spells, Rebekah knew where to find a bucket and towels. When we needed contact information for someone, Rebekah knew where to find my computer and what the password was. She registered me at the hospital while Julie talked me through contractions. And, because she is family, she was a completely different kind of emotional support. Both ladies were necessary in their own capacities.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider this. What’s the worst that could happen if you get a doula and she’s not that helpful? You’re out a few hundred dollars – barely a dent in the grand scheme of baby-related medical bills.
What’s the worst that could happen if you DON’T get a doula and you need one? It’s realistic to say that you could have a significantly less satisfying, possibly more traumatic, birth. Evidence shows lower rates of medical interventions when doulas are present, and the calming effect of a doula impacts safety in a very real way. Labor is influenced by your mental and emotional state. It’s critical to your physical health to support those things.
Simply put: friends and family have a different function from trained, professional labor and birth support. For the best experience you can have, and the happiest, healthiest outcome, consider having a doula at your baby’s birth. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
A doula is trained to provide mothers with emotional support, information, and assistance during labor and birth. She may also assist during postpartum care with breastfeeding or newborn care. She is not a medical professional, and will not act in a medical capacity.
Remember, like any other profession, there are good, bad, and great doulas out there. Look at certifications, but, in my view, experience and skill are as important, if not more. Do your research, get recommendations, interview several, and pick someone who is a good fit for you.