We know, without any doubt, that women have been providing emotional, physical and experiential support to other women in labor throughout much of human history. We now have a plethora of research to demonstrate the beneficial effects of continuous, knowledgeable labor support, such as that of a Birth Doula. However, in our hearts, we don’t need the research to acknowledge the ease we feel when others are present to support us in a time of powerful internal and external struggle and growth. During such monumental transitions and experiences it is important to have supportive, nurturing, and knowledgeable witnesses and this is the service of Doula care.
A doula, Greek for a woman who serves, is a caregiver who is present to provide continuous emotional, physical and informed care especially to the mother, but also to her partner and/or family. According to DONA International’s Code of Ethics, “the doula’s primary responsibility is to her clients… the doula should promote the general health of women and their babies, and whenever possible, that of their family and friends as well.” The doula provides individualized care to a mother, her baby and her family; while also working alongside, and not contradictory to, the healthcare staff providing care. A doula places their wishes, beliefs and experiences aside and concentrates on the desires of the laboring mother and strives to act as a personal advocate for the mother while providing emotional and physical care. A doula does not perform medical tasks such as vaginal exams, blood pressure checks, or provide medical advice. A doula specializes in natural pain management techniques and comfort measures such as breathing and visualizing techniques, labor positions, and provides reassurance through a foundational knowledge of, and training in, childbirth.
Labor support provides far reaching benefits to more than just the mother and her family, but also to the other medical attendants, our healthcare system, and society as a whole. Research by Kennel and Klaus, cited in the Birth Doula’s Position Paper by DONA International, shows the incredible impact of continuous labor support by a doula on the maternal-infant bond and on decreasing the incidence of labor and delivery related complications. When delivery complications are decreased there is less money spent on medical interventions, less strain placed on nurses and doctors, and better outcomes for mothers and their babies. The importance of a strong maternal-infant bond is tantamount in increasing the length of breastfeeding, decreasing the incidence of postpartum depression and enhancing the experience of childhood and parenting for both parties. Providing continuous, knowledgeable labor support, such as from a doula, can positively impact our collective maternal and child health, but also improve the experience and health of the individuals we serve.
On a more personal level, I believe the modern doula is a necessity, created to save the act of childbirth from an impersonal, medical model of conveyor-belt-birth. When the last thread of natural, sacred and spiritual birth was fraying to an end, the modern birth doula emerged to protect the humanity of mothers and their babies. The modern Doula has begun to restore the spiritual aspect of birth and to support the individual and personal experience women face during labor. The collective experience of childbirth is shifting once again and we will learn to respect the emotional and spiritual nature of childbirth, as we once did, when women labored in the arms of safety, love, and experience of other women, doulas.