What is a DOULA?
A birth doula is someone who provides physical, emotional, and informational support to a birthing person during labor. A doula will hold your hand, massage you where it hurts, suggest position changes, and can help your partner help you as well...when it comes to birth support, two sets of hands are often better than one. A labor doula is trained in emotional support, and is also emotionally removed from your situation--at times, it is very hard for one partner to see the other in pain during labor and birth. As labor and birth support, doulas have a wealth of information, both from their training and from attending a wide variety of births in a number of different circumstances. By accessing this information, doulas can help you to discern what type of birth you wish to have, review potential interventions with you, and help you advocate for yourself during your birth...pregnancy education, labor coach, birth support all in one!
Your doula will meet with you prior to birth, help with information gathering if needed, and learn how to best support you during your labor. Once labor begins, your birth doula will be with you until you deliver. Your doula will stay with you for a while after your baby is born and ensure that your new family has time to bond. They will also visit with you a time or two postpartum as well, to ensure that your new family is off to a great beginning. A doula can offer you labor support and birth assistance whether you choose to have your baby at home, a hospital, or a free-standing birth center.
A postpartum doula is trained in physical, emotional, and informational support for the new family...your doula for the fourth trimester. This includes further knowledge of breast/chestfeeding and common health concerns for new parents and new babies. Your postpartum doula will offer a listening ear, a helping hand, and gentle support in any number of areas of adjustment common to every new family: eating, sleeping, and integrating a new family member, or two, or more! A postpartum doula is an expert helping discern the difference between the "baby blues" and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), which affect nearly 1 in 5 new parents-- and not exclusively gestational parents. These post-birth doulas also come with a wealth of knowledge about the resources available to new parents in the community, which ones might be valuable to your family, and how to access them...we love offering postpartum education and new parent coaching! Postpartum doulas typically work in blocks of time--how often, how many hours, and for how many weeks depends on the needs of each family. A postpartum doula can also help with light housekeeping, cooking, laundry, errands, sibling and partner support, loving your pets, and most anything else...a new family's fairy godmother!
Important information from DONA International
Who is DONA International? Why should parents care what they have to say?
From their website... "DONA International is the world’s premier doula organization. We are the oldest, largest and most respected doula association in the world. Our founders are among the foremost experts on doula care, and DONA International certification is a widely respected measure of quality and professionalism. We are an international, non-profit organization of doulas that strives to have every doula trained and educated to provide the highest quality and standards for birth and/or postpartum support to birthing women and their families. To that end, we promote continuing education for doulas and provide a strong communication link among doulas and between doulas, families and the medical birthing community. We are an amazing community with a shared passion for families that reaches around the world. DONA International doulas and the families they serve are in more than 50 countries."
Position Papers: The Birth Doula's Contribution to Modern Maternity Care
One of DONA's founders is Seattle's own Penny Simkin, who also founded PALS, a local doula organization. Penny has written several books on different aspects of birth, is senior faculty and namesake of Bastyr's Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations, and has taught innumerable classes on childbirth, sibling preparation, doula work and survivors giving birth. Penny began her birth work in 1968, and has prepared or assisted over 13,000 families when it comes to birth. When Penny speaks, we listen! And you can listen, too.... (CW: highly gendered language; and a disclaimer: although this discussion takes place around the Swedish Hospital doula program, I am not part of that program. However, the general messages around working in hospitals/with providers and families are valuable and universal.)