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All About Doulas

By Amy Peterson CD(DONA), CLC, an affiliated doula of the Wentworth-Douglass Hospital Women & Children's Center 

What is a birth doula?

doula Amy Peterson.jpg

If you have an expecting or new mom in your life, you may have heard the word Doula in passing. It is a relatively new term used to describe someone who supports families through pregnancy, birth and the first weeks with their newborn. A doula, (pronounced doo-la) is trained to understand the needs of women and their partners as they become parents. A doula is not a friend, she is not a medical care provider; she is a trusted advocate and care taker.

What does a doula do?

Before birth, a doula is a wonderful resource. The doula listens to the couple’s hopes, expectations and concerns. She educates them about options and helps them create a plan for their birth and parenting experience. Doulas get to know the couple and develop a caring relationship before the birth, so that they can be a comforting support for the couple while they labor.

At birth, doulas do many things to support the family. The doula stays with the couple throughout their birth experience, even as doctors and nurses change shifts. She provides physical comfort for the mother, either by helping her partner know what positions and touch might feel best or by providing touch and positioning herself. She makes sure that the needs of the couple are met and gives partners the freedom to take a break. She understands and explains medical terms. She advocates for the plans and hopes that the couple has expressed to her. She is knowledgeable, encouraging and intuitive. She is a reassuring presence who will always listen to the couple and support their chosen path without judgement. Her life experience and understanding of the journey of birth helps the couple feel confident and empowered. A doula can ease her client’s pain or worry with a gentle touch in just the right spot, a whispered word that keeps them going, a look that tells them everything is alright.

And after all that work, the doula is still by the parents’ side as they meet their new baby. She may feed mom and dad, help with breastfeeding, teach dad how to swaddle, or help mom fix her hair before guests arrive. She will make sure the parents are comfortable and confident in their new roles before she leaves them. The doula will even visit the new family once they are home, listening again to their needs and wishes. She will make sure that parents have all the information they need; that their baby is thriving and feedings are going well. The doula can also help parents find resources for continued support as their needs change.

Why is a doula a good investment?

All of this might sound wonderful and even a luxury; but the fact is that doulas have been shown to improve the outcome for mothers and babies. Several studies have shown that women with doulas at their births are less likely to use pain medication, have a Cesarean, need pitocin, have vacuum extraction or suffer anxiety or depression. These moms have shorter labors, improved breastfeeding, and their babies have better APGAR* scores. Women who have had a doula express a greater satisfaction with their birth experience and their partners, and they feel more confident.**

When you think about the impact the birth experience has on a family, you can see the value in hiring a doula for support at this milestone. While doulas are not yet universally covered by insurance, some companies are beginning to recognize the cost savings of reduced interventions that doula care offers. Many people with health savings accounts are able to use them to pay for doula care.

Which doula is right for me?

Once a family has decided that doula support is a good fit for their birth plan, they will need to find the right doula for them. It is important to find a doula that has been certified by a reputable organization with strong standards and practices. In addition to being certified and experienced, a doula should be a good personality match for a family. They will be sharing intimate moments and will need to be at ease with each other. It is recommended that couples meet with a few doulas to find the most qualified doula that they feel comfortable with.

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital has made the search for a doula easier for new parents by doing some of the leg work for them. The Affiliated Doulas at Wentworth-Douglass have all been prescreened with background checks, certification verification and vaccination compliance.  The WDH doulas are often present at events and tours, and are always happy to meet with you to discuss plans and options. Take the time to find the one that will fit your family best by visiting the Women & Children's Center.

Amy Peterson is a DONA International certified Birth Doula, and an ALPP Certified Lactation Counselor. You can learn more about her services on her website: 

*APGAR scores are used to quickly measure the overall wellbeing of the newborn.

*These statistics appear in Hodnett E, Gates S, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003. Issue 3, Art. No. CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766., and Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Weston J. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub3.

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