Healthy Childbirth Options with Help from a Doula by Tamrha Richardson

       Since ancient times, in just about every culture, women have always supported women during childbirth. The word 'doula' itself comes from the Greek language, meaning 'a woman who serves.' Today we might define the word 'doula' as 'a childbirth assistant.  During the last century, when most births moved out of the home and into hospitals, it was this support that was left behind. Of course, the support of our partners and other family members continues, but today, many women are returning to the past and seeking out these specially trained women to add to their birth support teams.

     Often, the word 'doula' is unfamiliar to women, but the things she can bring to a birth are extremely valuable.  A doula....

.* Understands that birth is an important and life changing experience to the parents-to-be * Understands and is educated in the physiology of a birthing woman

* Assists the couple in creating and carrying out their birth plan

* Stays with the laboring mother through out the entire labor providing moral, emotional and physical support

* Provides information in order for mothers to make informed decisions and choices

* Explains medical procedure and provides information on interventions and pain medications

* Facilitates communication between the mother along with her partner and the birthing/medical staff

* Provides massage and other non-pharmacological pain relief measures

* Can suggest positions for laboring and birth

* Helps to support the father or partner during the birth so they can in turn support the

mother

* Helps with breastfeeding

A doula does not....

* replace fathers or partners, or any other support person but acts to be an encouragement and support for them as well. Fathers/partners are emotionally involved in the birth itself and benefit from the extra support a doula can provide. They also do not strive to conflict with the doctor, midwife or labor and delivery nurses. They are there to help, not hinder the birth process.

* provide clinical examinations such as vaginal exams, fetal heart beat checks or blood pressure checks.

* push her own birth ideals on to the parents to be.

     Often, doulas and parents-to-be will meet long before the special day nears. At this meeting the couple will share with the doula their ideas and wishes for the upcoming birth and decide if that particular doula is right for them.

     A doula's role changes from birth to birth and mother to mother for each mother will need her doula in a different capacity. Some may want a hands-on, strong supporter standing at her side with every surge. Others may need a quieter kind of support, one of information and knowledge, who stands back and gently supports mom from behind or beside her partner. Hired by the mother, for the mother, your doula's role is yours to create.

     There are various benefits of hiring a doula. Studies have shown that the cesarean rates are reduced in women who are supported by a doula throughout their labors. Labors are often shorter with fewer requests for epidurals since the ability to cope with pain improves. There are also reduced numbers of women receiving oxytocic drugs such as pitocin. Forceps deliveries and routine episiotomies are both reduced as well.

     Mothers prove to be more successful with breastfeeding their newborns when a doula is present after the birth with confidence in their mothering skills also rising. Many women tend to view their birth experiences as positive when supported by a doula and have a deeper understanding of just how amazing, capable and strong their bodies really are!

     If hiring a postpartum doula, she will help the parents, in a non-judgmental way, to adjust to life with a newborn during the first postpartum weeks. She can offer practical care advice for the newborn, help with breastfeeding advice and offer emotional support. If requested, the postpartum doula can help with errands, light house cleaning and meal preparations. Like a Labor Doula, each family needs different things, so services can be provided as need be.

     While many midwives are familiar with working alongside doulas, sometimes Obstetricians are not. Informing your doctor about the doula's role and of your desire to have a doula early on in your care can avoid any confusion or misunderstandings during labor. Many times once an OB becomes familiar with the purpose of a doula they are often very receptive to their presence, understanding that she is not there to question or obstruct his or her care, but to help emotionally and physically support the mother, help her to achieve her vision of birth and at times to provide her with any information she may need.

     There are many resources available to locate doulas in the area where you live. Your doctor or midwife may have some to refer you to, but in the case they don't, various websites have local listings. The Midwifery Practice at Stony Brook, through Stony Brook University Hospital and Medical Center, has a wonderful and informative site with listings under the Programs header. www.stonybrookmidwives.com

     The Long Island Doula Association has a members list that provides contact information for each doula as well as the area of Long Island that they serve. www.lidoulas.com

     At www.nydoula.com, The Metropolitan Doula Group provides listings of doulas serving the area of New York City, as well as some who may cover Long Island. Contact the specific doula to find out her area of coverage. 

     Tamrha Richardson is a Certified Labor Doula through ChildBirth International. A Mother of two boys, ages 2 1/2 and 10 months, she is passionate about supporting other women during such life changing events as she herself was supported. Tamrha can be reached through her website, www.tamrhasdoulasupport.com