hands on pregnant belly

Photo courtesy of @Marianavaldz/Twenty20

Doulas, aka labor coaches, birthing companions, or post-birth supporters, are practically mainstream maternity care these days. Dubbed by the New York Times as a growing force in maternity culture,” doulas are trained pros dedicated to providing continuous emotional and physical support to mothers throughout the childbearing process.

Nickie Tilsner, a certified doula, childbirth educator and founder of Cornerstone Doula Trainings in San Francisco and Portland, says that having someone like a doula on your side when labor begins could help bring clarity to certain time-sensitive and pressuring (yet precious) moments. After having trained more than 2,000 doulas in her 18 years of experience, Tilsner testifies that even seemingly straightforward questions from doctors and nurses can sometimes overwhelm or confuse expectant mothers, especially when the pressure’s on.

A properly trained doula won’t actually give you medical advice, nor should they push for you to go against advice provided by your doctor, but a doula will help expectant parents navigate the birthing process. Sometimes, it can be challenging for medical providers to be consistently present throughout a patient’s pregnancy, and in time-sensitive situations, they might not even speak the same medical language as their patients. That’s where doulas come in as a sounding board, Tilsner explains. We sit with clients before and during birth to learn what they want and give them strategies to make their birth their own. We want the mother and her partner to feel held and cared for.”

However the question remains: how do you know if a doula is right for you? A 2012 U.S. survey found that while only 6 percent of women surveyed actually received supportive care from a doula during labor, about 27 percent of those who didn’t seek out a doula did report that they would have liked to have had the labor assistant care.

The doula vs. midwife difference

Tilsner puts it simply: A doula does everything from the waist up while midwives and doctors do everything from the waist down.” 

Hospitals are often staffed with midwives in addition to their OB-GYN doctors. While midwives are health care providers who can help you deliver your baby anywhere from the hospital to your home, doulas provide supplemental care, much like a birthing coach. While OB-GYNs and midwives have the skills to be supportive, they often don’t have the time to go into depth or answer every single question,” says Tilsner. Doulas are there purely for support before, during, and after birth.” 

In addition to spending time with clients prenatally, doulas are there as soon as contractions begin — often heading straight to the client’s home. They also visit postpartum clients to help with breastfeeding or any other issues the new mom might be experiencing.

pregnant woman holding stomach

Photo courtesy of @maria_foto/Twenty20

What more can doulas do?

Throughout pregnancy, doulas can teach, be an emotional soundboard, and provide physical support. Many doulas offer complementary services to assist clients. For example, some teach childbirth education classes, prenatal yoga, hypnotherapy, visualization techniques, or breathwork. These tools are known to help with relaxation, birth preparation, and pain management. 

Many doulas are even certified massage therapists. When the mother feels good, the baby feels good,” says Tilsner. Loving touch that is supportive and relaxing helps the mother feel secure, calm, and safe — the baby will get some of this, too.”

The bottom line 

While studies have found that doula care can help reduce the potential for cesarean delivery, ultimately it’s up to you if you’re looking for an extra person to help support your throughout the whole process.

For some, having an extra voice in the room makes them feel more at home. A doula is someone who will meet you where you are and support your choices, without bringing their own ideas of what’s right or wrong,” says Tilsner. It’s not about giving birth a certain way or whether you used a specific medication or not. It’s about feeling like you were heard, your choices were honored, and that you had someone holding your hand through all phases of pregnancy without judgment.”

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.