What Can A Doula Do?

Kate and her firstborn one day after birth.


Doula. It's a word that's getting thrown around more and more in the world of pregnancy and childbirth. 

When asked what the word means, some may have never heard the term. Others may have a vague idea: 

"Isn't that for women who give birth without medication? Definitely not for me!" (A doula actually supports all sorts of births, including ones with epidurals or even c-sections). 

Or "Isn't that like a midwife? Don't they deliver babies?" (And the answer to that is no: doulas do not do anything medical or clinical and do not deliver babies!)

Still others may have met a doula before or know a little bit about what they DO do: supporting women in pregnancy and labor emotionally, physically, informationally. But they have never really considered what a doula might do for them personally.

I was in that boat during my first pregnancy. I actually did want to have an unmedicated natural birth, but I thought having a doula was something other people did. I didn't need one- I had my mom and my husband to support me, and a great team of midwives in a hospital known for being friendly to natural childbirth. I wouldn't need a doula, I thought, because I already had all this great support!

What I found out in labor, however, was that a doula would have been a wonderful addition to my team for these reasons:

  • In late pregnancy I was being monitored for possible pre-eclampsia. My midwives could really only focus on my physical health at appointments, and I ended up feeling terrified and alone with what was happening to my body. A doula could have been the extra ears to listen to and support me emotionally through this difficult time. She could have helped explain what was happening to me in a way I could understand, and helped me better communicate with my doctor and midwives about alternative ways to ease my stress and keep me healthy.
  • I went to the hospital right away when I started having contractions, even though they weren't very strong. I ended up with a 54 hour labor that felt very slow and defeating. A doula could have helped me stay home longer in early labor and know when to go. She could have reminded me that my body wasn't broken- it is quite normal to have days (sometimes weeks!) of early labor. 
  • I had difficult back labor, the nurses were not always available to help me as they tended to other patients. They also changed shifts every 12 hours. My mom and husband were just as worried and tired as I was, and not sure what to do during the long labor. A doula could have provided that continuous care I so desperately needed. She could have supported my mom and husband and assured them about my labor, giving them tools to help me cope.
  • After 54 hours, almost entirely unmedicated, including 4 hours of pushing, I ended up having a c-section. I felt totally defeated, like I had failed, and so did my husband.  A doula could have provided me the emotional support my husband and I both desperately needed- to know that we were not failures. To affirm how hard we had worked, and celebrate that we had made it so far and overcome so many other obstacles.
  • After the birth my baby lost a little more weight than is usual after birth. After everything else, this was a huge blow. I was able to talk to a lactation consultant the next day, and breastfeeding was ultimately successful, but I spent many hours in the meantime feeling confused and defeated. A doula could have been available to talk to me, even in the dead of night, to ease my worries and fears. She could have helped me right from the beginning to know I was getting a good latch, and talked to me about the signs that someone is producing enough milk for their baby.
  • My husband and I were new to the area and we did not have much of a support system in place. I struggled with depression for those first few months, feeling very isolated as a new mom in a new community. A doula could have helped me recognize the signs of depression and helped me find someone to talk to. She could have helped me find a better support system, and helped me not feel so alone in those first weeks.

Those are just some of the ways that a doula could have helped me, and a small sampling of the ways that doulas help countless other women every day! A doula was the first person I hired when I found out I was pregnant again the second, third, and fourth times, even before calling my OB. I knew that the support offered from the beginning to the end of the pregnancy was well worth it.

Now that I am a doula myself, I wanted to start this blog to bring more light to the doula profession, and hopefully help more people understand the role of the doula, and what a doula can do to help them in their own pregnancies, labors, and early postpartum. I hope that you enjoy it!

How about you? What comes to mind when you hear the word doula? Have you ever used one? If not, do you wish you had? Let me know! I would love to hear!