Throughout history and in nearly every culture across the globe, women have been supporting other women during pregnancy and childbirth both emotionally and physically. Unlike the traditional role of the midwife or doctor, who's purpose is to look after the medical needs of both mother and baby, The care of a doula is unique in it's focus on the physical and emotional comfort and support of the mother herself.
The majority of modern-day doulas agree that it is not their job or role to make decisions for you (the mother); Rather, it's their role to help you make your own choices and advocate for you and your unique wishes during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. A doula can help you weight the risks and benefits of certain practices and procedures. A doula is also there to offer you comfort measures and suggestions for achieving the birth that you want. Some doulas also offer other services to lessen your stress and help with your experience, including photography, massage, postpartum care, and breastfeeding support.
Today, doula training often focuses on meeting the emotional needs of women, as well as their physical comfort during labor. Some doulas also choose to focus on postpartum care. Trained doulas typically have experience in relaxation, breathing, and positioning techniques to reduce pain and aid in the progression of labor.
Several studies have shown that doula care can significantly reduce certain risks and unnecessary procedures. The presence of a doula has shown to reduce the rates of cesarean birth, maternal fever, and postpartum depression, as well as the need for oxytocin, pain medication, epidurals, and forceps delivery. Doula support has even shown to increase breastfeeding rates.
Before hiring a doula, you should ask lots of questions to make sure that she is a good fit for you and your needs. You may wish to ask a doula what training she has had, how many and what types of births she has attended, what her philosophy of birth is, and what types of services she provides. It's a fairly common practice that you meet with your doula at least once before hiring her. This first meeting will give you, your partner, and the doula a chance to further discuss your needs and her role in order to determine if she is the right doula for you. You may also wish to speak to some of her previous clients as a reference and ask if she has a backup doula in the case that she cannot not make it to your birth.