A doula is a professional labor assistant who provides physical and emotional support to you and your partner during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.
For instance, a doula might offer:
- Attention to physical comfort through techniques such as touch and massage and assistance with breathing
- Emotional reassurance, comfort and encouragement
- Information about what's happening during labor and the postpartum period, including explanations of procedures
- Help with facilitating communication between you and the hospital staff
- Guidance and support for loved ones
- Assistance with breast-feeding
Often, however, a doula's most important role is to provide continuous support during labor and delivery. Although research is limited, some studies have shown that continuous support from doulas during childbirth might be associated with:
- A decreased use of pain relief medication during labor
- A decreased incidence of C-sections
- A decrease in the length of labor
- A decrease in negative childbirth experiences
A doula might add another opinion to the mix when decisions need to be made about labor and delivery. However, a doula doesn't provide medical advice, nor can she or he change the clinical recommendations of a midwife or an obstetrician. Also, fees and insurance coverage vary.
If you're interested in hiring a doula, ask your health care provider, childbirth instructor, family or friends for recommendations. You might also contact your local hospital for a referral.
When interviewing potential doulas, ask about their training, how many births they've attended, their philosophies about childbirth, what services they provide, and the cost. Also, discuss your preferences and concerns about pregnancy, labor and delivery.