I figured that since I get the same questions about what I do as a doula fairly often, it might make sense to get it out there in writing for easy access. The following are some of the most FAQ about doula work. If you have others that I haven't answered, please list them below in the comments and I'll update the post as needed!
What does a doula do?
A birth doula's tasks include assisting the mother & partner in preparing for and carrying out their plans for birth, staying with the mother throughout their labour, providing emotional/physical support, an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the parents get the info they need to make informed decisions. Doulas also facilitate communication between the labouring mother, partner and clinical care providers. Working with a naturopathic doctor & doula gives you the added benefit of working with a medical professional educated in the physiology of birth and equipped with tools to aid in common challenges of birth and labour, including baby position, stalled labour, avoiding induction, and pain management.
Why work with a doula?
There are lots of reasons. I find that many new parents don't realize that without a doula, they will be alone for much of their labour. Whether you labour at home or in the hospital, a lot of the time you spend in labour will be without any additional support. At the hospital, nurses will be in and out occasionally checking on you and your baby's heart rate. For home births, the midwives may come by in a prolonged labour situation, but more likely they will just be there once active labour is progressing to transition. But a great deal of the time, it is just you, your partner, and whoever else you've invited along for the ride - in some cases, your doula!
What's the problem with labouring alone? Absolutely nothing! But, in some cases labour goes on for 8, 12, 24, 36 hours, and keeping your energy up can be challenging. If it's your first time, it can be quite hard in the heat of the moment to remember the tips & tricks you learned in your prenatal classes for coping with the pain, or knowing when to call your care provider. Having a doula there who is experienced, calm, and not as emotionally involved in the outcome as the new parents can help remind you that what feels like a nerve-wracking & hectic situation is just a natural process with an expected course.
There's lots of research coming out to support the work that doulas do. For example doulas have been shown to
- decrease the rate of medically nonindicated Caesarian births, seriously though they really do
- decrease the cost of labour by minimizing the need for medical intervention
- decrease the need for pain management measures such as epidural
- help new parents have better success with breastfeeding
If I have a doula, do I need a midwife too?
A doula is not a qualified primary care practitioner for labour & delivery. Doulas are not trained to deliver babies, so you must also be working with a midwife or physician even if you choose to work with a doula.
If I plan to birth in the hospital with an OB/GYN, can I still use a doula?
Definitely! From my personal (and biased!) perspective, having a doula during a hospital birth with an obstetrician is especially important. A doula can help in a hospital birth with an OB/GYN by:
- making sure you don't go to the hospital too early
- providing continuity of care - your doula will stay with you from whenever you call them in labour to when the baby is born; conversely, it is possible and often likely that both nurses and physicians will be going on and off duty during the course of your labour
- being there for the labouring parent if the non-labouring parent needs to take a break to get something to eat or go for a walk
- help you to avoid medical intervention as long as you desire and is possible
If I have a doula, do I have to have a natural birth without pain medication?
Nope. Definitely not. However, one of the advantages of having a doula is that many parents who expect to need pain medication are able to avoid it through the use of massage, positional changes, encouraging support, and information about how their labour is progressing.
What does my doula do if I end up having a Caesarian birth?
That depends on a few things. Although some OBs and hospitals are not yet comfortable with it, many doulas are able to attend the Caesarian birth along with the non-labouring parent. The advantage to this is that the labouring parent's partner is able to watch their baby joining the world for the first time, while your doula can stay by the labouring parent's side providing information on what is happening and emotional support. At some point after Caesarian births, the baby is often taken away from the labouring parent's side in order for the surgery to completed. Having a doula present means that the non-labouring parent can go be by the baby's side while the doula stays with the parent who has just had surgery, to continue to provide support. Having a doula by your side in a Caesarian birth can help to make the experience a positive one and the rite of passage birth should always be.
In the event that you are not able or elect to not have your doula by your side for a Caesarian birth, many doulas will adjust their package to include more postpartum care in the place of being present at labour & delivery.
What role will my partner play in my labour & delivery if I have a doula?
Believe it or not, your doula is there for your partner just as much (or sometimes even more!) than they are for you. While you, the labouring parent, enter "Labourland" and go deep into the changes going on in your body as your labour progresses, the non-labouring parent may have questions about what is going on, how they can help, if it's alright if they go to the bathroom, get a snack, etc. With a doula present, someone is there to make sure that the non-labouring parent (and soon-to-be new parent!) is able to take care of themselves through what can be a very long and tiring process.
How do I find a doula?
Great question! If you are in Toronto and the GTA and are interested in working with me, you can check out the page on my Naturopathic Doula Services. A review of the DONA and CAPPA websites will yield a ton of doula options in your locality, as well as a search for 'naturopathic doulas' + your town name, if you are interested in finding someone with similar training to me.
If you have any more questions let me know! I'd love to answer them.