What doulas do and don't do: Answering your questions.
This post was created based on specific questions people had for me about doulas. I got my information from my experience, dona.org, and Alisha Gessner & Chenoa Durheim certified doulas in our community.
Are doulas only for women who want a natural birth?
A doula's number one goal is to support you and your wishes for birth. If your desire is to have a natural childbirth, your doula will help educate you, and support you during your birth to hopefully make that possible (as we know birth is unpredictable and this does not always happen).
But, if your wish is to get an epidural or schedule a c-section, a doula would support YOUR wishes 100%. This is not about the doula, this is about you and your partner and your birth and your baby.
How does a doula support an epidural client?
Doula's are incredibly helpful for woman who get epidurals. After an epidural is administered your doula can give your partner a break so he/she is ready for when things pick back up again. Your doula can continue to provide support by wiping your brow, offering cold/hot packs, suggesting positions (that are safe when you have an epidural) and helping provide anything you need during this time. And most importantly, your doula is there to support you. If your partner needs a break or the nurse is not in the room, your doula is 100% focused on you and your needs.
When people think of doulas, they often only think of the support happening during birth (which is obviously a crucial part of the job). But, doulas also provide incredibly important support before and after birth. This is especially helpful for someone who is having a planned c-section. For example, let's say you are waiting to have your scheduled c-section and your surgery gets bumped for something else. Often women start to get anxious as they have to wait longer and longer for their surgery. A doula can help provide encouraging words and help relieve stress. Also, recovering from a c-section can make postpartum a little more challenging. If you hire a doula, you have someone a phone call away (and who will also come to your house) and help support you after surgery.
During your surgery, a doula can be a crucial part of your support system. The doula will stay with family, helping to ease their anxiety. Experienced doulas help to keep everyone calm while mama is in surgery because they know what is going on.
Labor ending in cesarean. Do you stay?
In the case of an emergency c-section the doula definitely stays. There are three things that can happen.
1. Mama, partner and doula are present for surgery: In this rare circumstance, the doctor will allow the doula the be present in the surgery. In this case, the doula can be a constant support and extremely helpful.
2. Mama and partner are present for surgery: usually the doctors will not allow anyone but mama and partner to be present for surgery. In this case, the doula will absolutely wait with any anxious family members in the waiting room and help to calm nerves.
3. Partner is not allowed in surgery: this will only happen if there is an emergency situation happening and there isn't time to get the partner ready to be in the room. In this rare circumstance, the doula is incredibly crucial to being with the partner to help calm nerves and offer the necessary support in this situation. The doula will wait with the partner and be with mama, partner and baby after surgery is preformed.
Doulas and how they work with partners/family members/spouces
Do I need a doula if I have supportive family on my side?
Doulas probably get asked this question most. Many couples who are considering a doula but have supportive partners don't hire a doula, thinking they aren't needed.
Alisha Gessner (certified doula) says "support is support is support." In the most ideal situation the couple is educated about birth and postpartum (took classes, read books), a partner who is completely supportive and willing to do whatever to make the mother comfortable and a doula who is trained to know how to help the mother get into certain positions, knows the right things to say when labor gets difficult and can help encourage and direct the supportive partner.
Plus, I have had conversations with many women who didn't hire a doula because they had a supportive partner but in the end wished they had someone who was experienced. Your partner has never been at a birth before (most likely) and will not know everything that a doula knows to help support you.
Do doulas replace partners?
NO! A doula would never ever replace a partner. Your partner is the second most important person in the room (besides the birthing mother of course). A doula is doing her job well when she is encouraging when necessary, silent when necessary, letting you and your partner do your thing (if they are in a rhythm and doing well) suggesting position changes when things have slowed or picked up or are difficult.
If anything, a doula enhances the experience for the partner as well. Especially for first time parents, there is usually a moment where the partner starts to get anxious - you have never seen your spouse in this situation before - its intense. A doula can help reassure you and provide the necessary support to keep things moving.
How will you advocate for my medical rights?
I want to make sure the address this question well. First of all, doulas are not medical professionals and therefore would never, ever get in the way of a medical professional, offer medical advice or preform anything medical. Our goal is to work with our clients alongside nurses, midwives and doctors in a way that makes the birthing process as smooth as possible. We provide emotional and physical support.
Now, that being said, doulas work with the couple before birth and help write a birth plan. Therefore the doula knows the wishes and desires of the couple before going to the hospital or birth center. A doula is doing her job well when she is educating and equipping the couple on how to ask good questions in the hospital.
In an ideal situation, the couple is extremely educated about pregnancy and the birthing process and is able to have good communication in the birthing room with all who are present.
Again, I want to be clear that doulas are not medical professionals and never speak on behalf of the laboring mother or partner. She is there to help guide conversations and questions, reminding the couple of their birth plan and encouraging them to ask questions in regard to what is happening.
In regard to your healthcare provider:
I think people forget that they are paying for their experience. So, make sure you do your research on your healthcare provider. For example, do you know what the cesarean rate is at that specific hospital or with that specific provider? I would suggest (especially if you are hoping for an unmedicated birth) to know the answers to this question.
And please have good communication with your provider.
And please, please, if you are hiring a doula for your birth, communicate with your provider that she will be there. The more open communication during pregnancy, the more open communication will happen during labor.
How long will you be there?
Doulas are a continuous support for you and your partner. Usually (each doula contract is a little different), the doula will come when you feel you need her support (which is usually during intense contractions) and will stay until after the baby is born and she is no longer needed. When a birth is extremely long, some doulas will have in their contract that they will take a bit to refresh (in order to be super present for your birth).
All doulas will have a back up doula so in emergencies, if your doula cannot be there, their back-up doula will.
If you hire a professional doula, you will have continuous support at your birth.