Value of a Birth Doula and Purpose of Labor Support

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How is labor support (having a birth doula) valuable?

Labor support is valuable to a new mother because there is someone with the woman, during the process, who assures that she is empowered, self-expressed and supported. Having a “birth assistant” makes the whole process better. Ideal birth doula support begins during pregnancy and continues through labor, birth and beyond. This means someone is in-tune with and can understand where the mother is - how she feels physically, what self-care measures she is taking, and emotionally what her fears, emotions and hopes are for her birth and mothering experience. A well-trained doula really holds a peaceful, loving space for the mother, gives her ways to have faith and trust in her own body, and also sees her as a miraculous being holding the importance of the transformational, magical time of pregnancy, birth and mothering. There are at least four main areas where this can happen: (1) knowledge/experience, (2) emotional support, (3) advocacy and (4) physical support.

First, doulas have knowledge and experience to share with the mother. Birth doulas bring training and understanding of evidence-based birthing information as well as experience supporting births of other clients in ways that enhance physical, mental and emotional outcomes. A doula can work with her to help her understand the changes she is going through, what is happening with the baby, what her options are to give birth, what to expect during labor, potential complications, and how to make the birth process more manageable. Often, a doula will assist with creating a birth plan. A mother, working with a doula, knows she can have answers to her questions when she wants support in a specific area. BirthWorks doulas additionally are trained in ways that can help mothers work through and shift any past situations, fears, grief or family relationships, so she can be present, calm and positively affirm her own thoughts about her pregnancy and birth. A doula’s knowledge and experience bring wisdom, which translates into someone always being present and calm for the mother. Knowing an intelligent, able woman is watching out for a new mother, provides assurance for the woman through an amazingly transformative, but also potentially overwhelming time.

Secondly, doulas offer women emotional support through the process. Think about any challenge or important life event you’ve been through… it’s always easier when you have a loving family member or friend with you to go through it… that is a role a doula plays. In some cases, women prefer not to have their own mother, sister, family member or friend there at the birth, which should be honored… a doula can provide support then. A birth doula provides companionship and encouragement with positive thoughts and kind words to support the woman. In some ways, the doula is like a cheerleader, always encouraging the best for the woman and looking out for her as the end of her pregnancy progresses into the labor and during the labor, even if something unanticipated emerges. All moms want that! BirthWorks doulas have training based on the foundation of human values and what we call “head, heart and hands” - which allows use to tune-in to the woman’s deepest needs, to listen and support her quietly, carefully and fully. Beyond that, doulas also can increase the woman’s self-confidence during pregnancy and birth. When women know they have someone who will be with them and will be looking out first for their needs above those of anyone else, it is comforting. If the experience for the laboring mom is more positive overall, she senses less pain, and when she feels more relaxed, her hormones will work for her… allowing more ease and efficiency in labor. Also, evidence-based research shows that having a supportive woman present consistently during birth shortens labor.

Next, the doula/mother relationship also allows the doula to play a more important role -- as an “advocate” and someone who has evidence-based information and practices to help. The doula -- in prenatal discussions, during the intrapartum process, or during the birth -- can facilitate and mediate between the woman and her caretakers, her family and her partner as needed. The doula’s support can be simply just listening to a woman’s concerns and thoughts, but more importantly, she can make sure some action is taken to assure the woman’s needs and hopes are met. A doula is especially important if a woman’s partner or family have differing perspectives than the woman. Often a doula helps the birth partner to understand what is going on and what is best to do to support the new mother - this guidance creates ease for the partner and the mother both! (Whether the birth partner is a husband, boy/girlfriend, mother, sister or friend, a doula brings them into the process as the mom choses in ways that make them both happier.) Another reason for doula support is that in a hospital setting things like liability issues, time pressure and technological interventions are prioritized over the mother’s wishes. During labor, there is great value for the woman in being able to express her wishes, thoughts and concerns, and knowing someone listening will take action to assure they are heard and fulfilled. Also, during labor if the woman is tired and an urgent issue requires quick decisions, the woman knows someone understands her hopes for birth plan changes - that way whatever type of birth happens, the mom can look back and feel complete. BirthWorks doulas know the best ways to advocate subtly, offer evidence-based information for decisions, and to hold the space to remind the woman (and partner) what their wishes were, to ask for more time to make decisions (when there is not an urgent situation), and to talk through with the parents the risks and benefits of interventions. Also, after the baby is born caregivers may focus more on the baby - and the birth partner’s attention might move to the baby too (understandably!) - after birth mamas need support too!

Last, but not least important, doulas provide physical support and comfort measures for pregnant women. During pregnancy, this could mean teaching her how to sleep comfortably, exercises to elongate the back, and what to do to strengthen the abdominals and pelvic floor. During labor preparation, the doula can help mothers practice different positions for labor and teach the birth partner massage techniques to ease pain. Doula support during labor is essential -- positive stimuli, such as finding more comfort in new positions, intentional positive touch, counter pressure to ease contraction pain, can help so much. Doulas can help the birth partner to be involved too, as the mother/couple likes. Women who are supported to move freely in labor, often have shorter and easier labors, and less need for interventions. BirthWorks birth doulas know techniques for Optimal Pelvic Positioning, so can help the woman move in ways that may shorten labor and create more ease for the baby to move down and be born. Also, a doula can help with breathing, relaxation and visualization techniques. Women who can focus on their breath during each contraction are able to stay present to get through it, so will not become fearful or overwhelmed. Finally, a doula’s touch, holding a hand, a hug, or putting cool cloths on the forehead during labor all keep the women more content.

A birth doula’s purpose is to support and “advocate” for the mother during pregnancy and birth. Often, the doula is the only one looking out first and only for the mother. The implications of this are important, since a supported, empowered woman is more likely to be calm during her pregnancy. If women are relaxed and confident, when going into labor, it has been shown to make a positive difference in their labors, birth experience and birth outcomes. This means a healthier baby! Also, this means a happier mother who has an easier time breastfeeding, is more rested, is bonding successfully with her baby early on - which all equates to a happier family! A birth that is less stressful helps the woman feel confident moving into her new role as a mother… which is great, since she has no time to rest once the baby is born! Also, a mother’s ease, her view of the birth looking back, and how breastfeeding goes all deeply impact her energy and her ability to bond with her baby. Science has shown that this early bonding (in the first seconds, minutes and hours of life!) has a unquestionable impact on the neurodevelopment of the baby’s brain - in fact it is the most important thing for babies brains and nervous systems!

Clearly, birth doulas bring great value and there are a multitude of reasons to work with one! Please check BirthWorks directory for a birth doula professional near you.

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Cristin Tighe
Executive Director & International Coordinator
1-202-276-3521 Mobile/WhatsApp