This past Sunday, at the "Yeah, Baby!" expo in Syracuse, NY, I was asked the question over and over... "What does a doula do?"
The short answer is that a birth doula is a trained labor assistant who does whatever the laboring mother or her family needs during the birth of their baby and a postpartum doula is a woman who helps the new family make the transition to parenthood or eases the entry of the next baby into the family.
Often, people will assume that they don't need a doula because their partner will be at the birth or because they have family around who can help after the baby is born. I'm thinking, perhaps, that this is because doulas are still a relatively new thing and people don't see how a doula could help them.
When I'm with a family at their birth, there is a lot that I do. I provide information, about the birth process, about the different birth options, about comfort measures and what has helped other moms. I remind them that they are a customer, a consumer, who is paying for a service from the hospital, midwife or doctor. In doing that, I hope to empower them to make informed choices and feel that the are in control. Physically, I'm there to hold their hands, rub backs and feet, tell them that they can do this and that they will make it through.
Most importantly, I'm there continuously. From the time that they call me to tell me "it's time," I stay with them. While your doctor or midwife might have other moms in labor or office hours to attend to, your doula just has you.
At the birth of Ben, our fourth baby, I had two student midwives who served as doulas for me. They walked with me, spent time with us, rubbed my back, kept getting me drinks, went to the snowball stand for me and made suggestions like using the shower for relief during transition and stayed after the birth to make sure we were settled in. Even though Ben was my fourth baby, my fourth natural birth and I was having him at home, their support made my birth experience better.
If anyone didn't "need" a doula, it was me. I had this birth thing under control. I was a seasoned pro. Having them there made the atmosphere more relaxed and peaceful. His birth really was an enjoyable time for me. Having a doula at your birth can enhance your the birth experience for you.
DONA International shares about studies on doulas and birth: http://www.dona.org/mothers/why_use_a_doula.php
So if you're in Syracuse, NY or the surrounding areas and are looking for a doula to attend your birth, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation.