Do You Doula?

Leza Besemann first heard of doulas—women whose job is to provide continuous emotional support during labor, but who are not medical nurses—at a natural childbirthing class in the early 2000s, when she was 30 and preparing to have her first baby. “As soon as my husband and I heard about the role of doulas, we knew it was something we wanted to do,” Besemann said. She has since given birth to four children with the help of a doula, whom she says is “like a member of the family.”

According to DONA International, one of the oldest and largest doula training and certification organizations, a birth doula provides emotional support during labor, employs physical comfort measures (like massage or repositioning) and facilitates communication between medical staff and the laboring woman. “For us it was a matter of having someone there to run interference, so the doula could help us communicate to the staff what we wanted, while my husband and I could just focus on the labor,” said Besemann.

Typically, a birth doula will meet with her client at least once before the birth to discuss her birth plan, be present for the entire duration of the labor, however long that may be, and meet with the client a few days later. A postpartum doula, on the other hand, is someone that supports the mother in the first few weeks or months after birth—dubbed the “fourth trimester”—for an hourly wage, assisting with newborn care, helping out around the house, providing companionship and educating the mother on “infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing, and coping skills for new parents.” A birth doula also differs from a midwife, which is a childbirth professional (in the U.S., normally a Certified Nurse Midwife) trained to assist in the actual labor and birth, referring the mother to a medical doctor only if a serious complication arises. Brith doulas also typically work with women who are giving birth with an obstetrician, since midwives tend to have assistants that provide similar care to that of a doula.

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