The Benefits of Having a Doula Present both before
and after Birth
Giving birth to a child changes a woman physically, spiritually and emotionally. The process of labor, birth and the immediate postpartum can be challenging- even frightening for many women, as well as their partners. In centuries past, labor took place in the home, with the mother surrounded by midwives and experienced female caretakers. Today, labor often takes place in a sterile, confining hospital room. Mothers are left to labor mostly alone. However, doulas, professional caregivers who spend time with women prenatally, during labor and the postpartum, offer women a great deal of support, while helping to bridge the gap between past and present.
There are many clinical benefits of having a professional doula present during labor and birth. Controlled studies of women of similar health who had doulas present during labor versus those who did not showed significant benefits of having this type of caregiver present.
Benefits of Continuous Support of a Professional Doula during Labor:
- Shorter labors
- Reduced chance of cesarean delivery
- Less narcotic use
- Fewer assisted deliveries (pitocin, forceps, vacuum)
- Reports of positive experience from both mother and partner
During the birth doulas provide many benefits to both parents. They offer advice, support, and many traditional comfort methods. Though they cannot speak on behalf of the parents, they can provide parents with research-based advice regarding interventions. Doulas help by providing massage, keeping the mother hydrated, offering suggestions for changes in position and proving a number of traditional, non-narcotic pain relief options for the laboring woman.
Benefits of Having a Doula after Birth
Though most doulas are considered birth or labor doulas, there are also a number of professional postpartum doulas working around the world to help retain the healing an emotional traditions of post-birth recovery. In the United States women rarely get paid maternity leave, they often rush back to work and their daily lives without even a chance to catch their breath. In non-western cultures, this type of activity is still virtually unheard of, with most eastern cultures promoting an extended period of confinement following birth. Postpartum doulas help to bring some of these traditions to the western world, while helping parents to build confidence in their maternal and paternal skills.
Benefits of the Postpartum Doula:
- Higher rates of successful breastfeeding
- Lower rates of postpartum depression
- Greater understanding of the physical and emotional needs of the newborn
- Less anxiety/fear regarding basic baby care
- Earlier bonding as a result of increased maternal confidence
- Less maternal exhaustion/frustration
Sitting the Month: Postpartum Traditions around the World
Spending the first 4-8 weeks after birth indulging in hearty foods, resting in bed and bonding with baby are not unusual outside of the western world. Though not always known as doulas, postpartum caregivers are a significant part of the traditional birthing experience. The presence of female caretakers, either professionals or family members, who provide superior postpartum support, is common outside of the US.
Common Eastern traditions for postpartum care include:
- Eat special foods meant to increase lactation and promote healing
- Spending time quietly reflecting on the birth experience and new motherhood
- Foregoing certain activities
- “Hot” foods are encouraged in many Asian cultures (brown sugar, fish pig)
- “Cold” foods are discouraged in the same cultures (fruits, vegetables, soybeans, and milk)
- Mother spends an extended period of time in the bed, without getting up for any reason
- Younger, unmarried women and older women without children at home come in to care for the mother/baby dyad, older children and father
Many European countries also partake in some sort of postpartum ritual. Some countries, such as France, actually subsidize care for the mother and baby from a professional following birth. Postpartum and birth doulas are widely available throughout the United States. Interested families can typically find a professional in their area by visiting http://www.dona.org
The Birth Partner Third Edition Penny Simkin
The Doula Book