A "doula" may sound like something weird you'd find in your cleaning closet, but a"doula" is a trained professional who provides emotional and physical support throughout pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
Cool, so what exactly do doula's do?
“If I don’t know my options, I don’t have any” - Diana Korte
First off, I want to make a note that doula's do not offer medical assistance or perform any medical tasks. That is the role of your nurse, doctor or midwife! Doula's can certainly help you come to an informed decision, but they should never speak for you. This being said; Doula's do offer physical and emotional comfort and support throughout your pregnancy, labor and delivery. They also provide resources and information relevant to their client's unique birth experience. This can look like many different things, depending on the doula and what they may specialize in...
Hip squeezes, sacral counter pressure, providing hot/cold towels, gentle massage, stabilizing their client while they walk through contractions, reminding them to drink, eat, or go to the bathroom during labor, etc... are all ways that doula's can help alleviate physical pain or provide physical assistance during labor! A doula's role is often a very physical one. Many partners are relieved to share this responsibility with someone during a long labor.
A doula understands that birth is just as much mental as it is physical, and does not neglect this in the way they care for their client. Doula's usually get to know their clients through prenatal meetings. Whether that's debriefing their last birth experience, talking through a difficult pregnancy, or working through their options during labor and birth - emotional support is a key part of a doula's role. They want to get to know their clients! This plays a huge role during labor and birth, as doula's often call back to what was talked through in these meetings. This can look like breathing in sync with their client, reminding them that what they are feeling is normal, empowering them with mantra's that they have previously talked about, etc...
If applicable, the emotional support that doula's bring to labor and birth is also a great asset for birth partners. Having a doula can be reassuring to a partner that it isn't "all on them", and can give peace of mind that if they need to eat or sleep or go to the bathroom, their loved one is not alone. They have someone with experience and knowledge to back them up when needed, and someone to turn to and inconspicuously ask, "is this normal?" when the woman in labor starts making sounds from depths they've never heard before... (most of the time, the answer is "yep, this is normal...").
The "Mary Poppins" Bag
Along with their experience, doula's will often carry a backpack, satchel, or duffel bag with them to a birth. Whatever form of bag it is, I simply like to call it their "Mary Poppins" bag. Inside you will find a variety of helpful items, including perhaps tennis balls for counter pressure, tea lights for mood setting, portable fan, breath mints, hair ties, towels, extra hygiene products, essential oils and other things that they have found to enhance their client's labor & delivery experience. Each doula is unique, as is their Mary Poppin's bag.
I became a doula because I attribute a lot of how my births went to having the support of a doula! I was calmer, my partner was more confident, and I never felt alone through my labor. Giving birth is one of the most vulnerable experiences someone can have during their life! Hiring a doula is an evidence based way someone can secure continuous care and support for themselves during this time. As Dr. John H. Kennell puts it, "If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it." I'm a little biased, but I really do believe that everyone should have the support of a doula at their birth.