A doula is a personal childbirth coach and assistant who is there to help you through labor, birth and the first few weeks postpartum.
They’ve become more popular with hospitals and moms since research found that the continuous support of a labor assistant is associated with better birth outcomes: fewer c-sections and delivery complications, and moms who report being more satisfied with the birth experience.
Constant support during labor is important because during your stay to deliver in a hospital you’ll be handed off between potentially dozens of staff members, starting with admitting staff and then triage nurses, two or three or four shifts of labor and delivery nurses, possibly an anesthesiologist or specialists, residents, even your obstetrician. None of them are likely to have read your birth plan. They will all have specific jobs to do and as many as a dozen other patients to do them for. But a doula is there just for you, the whole time you’re in labor to advocate what you want or don’t want– no heplock, minimal fetal monitoring, your mother-in-law not in the delivery room– your doula can be the one to repeat your choices to the appropriate people.
Doulas can also be great sources of information before labor. They can give you the inside scoop on a doctor or hospital’s reputation, point you towards local pregnancy and baby resources like prenatal yoga, childbirth classes and DVDs, and help you draft a birth plan.
Once you’re admitted and in labor a doula can help decipher hospital terms and lingo and explain all of the charts, numbers and machines you’ll be surrounded by when you’re in labor. She can help you find comfortable positions during contractions and talk you through them, walk you through the halls, fetch ice chips and extra pillows and blankets. She can support your partner and family by giving them breaks, explaining what’s going on, helping them find food when you’re on your 16th hour of labor (and a place far away from you for them eat it). Many doulas also offer a postpartum visit which you will be glad for.
When it comes to finding a doula one place to start is with the hospital where you deliver, some hospitals have them on staff and if so they may be covered by your insurance. Also in the U.S. professional doulas are certified through DONA, the professional association of Doulas Of North America, which offers referrals to local doulas from their web site. Your pediatrician and other moms of new babies many also have some ideas.