When asked to name the first medical professional that comes to mind, one would most likely answer a doctor or nurse. However, there are so many various fractions in the medical industry that one professional is often overlooked or sometimes people do not know of its existence, yet an important part to the neonatal unit is a doula. So what is a doula exactly? Is a doula a nurse or a mother helping another mother? Let’s delve in and understand some more.
A doula (pronounced doo-lah) is derived from a Greek word. Translated it means “a woman who serves” and more recently referred to as a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and early postpartum. She is also there to support her partner and family members.
A doula’s main role is to support the woman who is preparing herself and her family for the birth of the baby. Her main focus is to provide educational, emotional and physical support during pregnancy and childbirth. Studies have shown that when a doula attends birth, labour is associated with improved maternal and baby health. Labours are shorter with fewer complications and the risk of induction interventions is lowered. There is also less need for pain relief and babies’ breastfeed more easily. She is there to provide support during childbirth that may include physical assistance and comfort (massage, maintaining a supporting posture or providing water), and emotional support (providing company, encouragement or simply talking in a soothing tone of voice).
Doulas also assist the new family with tending to the newborn’s needs during the transition period. During early family life, doulas provide breastfeeding support, assistance with newborn care, sibling and family care. Also, research evidence shows that the quality services of a postpartum doula can ease the transition that comes with the addition of a baby to a family, improve parental satisfaction and reduce the risk of mood disorders.
Doulas do not replace the woman’s partner, but rather support both the woman and her partner. The doula is not a medical care provider, so neither does she performs clinical procedures, replace medical care providers nor speak for them. She assists them in gathering information and evidence for informed choices.
Most doula-client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. Before the labour, the doula and the family can develop a relationship where the mother and her partner feel free to ask question or voice any concerns. Doulas may be found in association with a hospital, or community based programs as well as private practice.
Sometimes a doula is hired to work with families beyond the postpartum stages, providing continued physical and emotional support, for as long as needed (sometimes, this support can be ongoing for several years). She may also offer education, companionship and nonjudgmental support during the postpartum. She can assist with newborn care, family adjustment, meal preparation and light household tidying. Also provides information on infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents and makes appropriate referrals when necessary.
A doula is not there to take the place of your labour nurse or doctor during labour and delivery, she is simply there to console and care for the mother in any way that comforts her during this life changing time. An expecting mother might just want a helpful hand by her side. So even though a doula does not have the many years of medical schooling, she still plays a vital role as a medical professional to the many mothers in need of her assistance.