Are you looking for emotional and practical support during pregnancy? Maybe you need a doula.
Doula comes from a Greek word meaning female slave. Doulas, sometimes called “birth attendants”, have existed in an informal role through the ages and in many societies and cultures, and are becoming increasingly used in modern Western Society as a resource to new parents in addition to a family doctor, obstetrician, or midwife.
Training and certification requirements for doulas vary greatly from country to country. According to DONA – Doulas of North America, a doula is defined as “a woman who is trained and experienced in childbirth and provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a woman during labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period.”
What is the Difference Between a Doula and a Midwife?
A doula is a comforting and knowledgeable birth counselor. A midwife is a formally trained medical professional who carries out the medical tests, reports, physical exams and oversees the medical aspects of labour and delivery.
While many midwives may provide the emotional support of a doula, doulas are not licensed to perform births in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia.
History of the Doula
Women have been supported by other women through childbearing throughout history. The period of pregnancy, childbirth,and the “laying in” period or initial weeks following the birth of a baby were traditionally the dominion of women, and occurred in the mother’s home with one or more women attending her.
It has only been in the past one hundred years that childbirth in the Western world has moved to the hospitals and become more of a medical experience than a social one.
As more mothers became concerned with the frequency and number of medical interventions (such as cesarean sections) that appeared to be becoming commonplace even in lower-risk pregnancies, birth attendants or doulas began to accompany mothers into hospital in increasing numbers. The term “doula” began appearing in literature in the United States in the mid-1970s.
What Does a Doula Do?
Pregnancy, childbirth, and the care of a newborn can be physically and emotionally draining. Historically new parents could turn to grandparents and other family members for support during this time. Today’s parents often live far from their extended family.
- A doula can help fill the role that older female friends and relatives used to provide to pregnant women.
- They can support mothers and fathers emotionally, and answer questions and give advice on concerns many new parents have.
- Prior to labour and delivery doulas may provide suggestions for pregnancy massage, advice regarding non-medicinal morning sickness remedies, exercise and lifestyle modifications to make pregnancy more comfortable, and they may also help with preparing a birth plan.
- During labour and delivery a doula can be a comforting presence to both the labouring mother and an anxious father.
- She can help explain what the doctors, midwife, or nurses are doing, provide suggestions for pain relief alternatives to medical intervention, and help coach the mother while the the medical staff carry out their clinical duties.
- For mothers who do not have a partner or close female friend, a doula can provide invaluable assurance and support throughout the pregnancy, labour, and childbirth, and assure the labouring mother of her progress.
Where Can I Find a Doula?
You can find a doula by asking your midwife or healthcare professional for a local referral. If that isn’t possible, try your local health unit. There are also doulas listed on the Internet. Breastfeeding.com has an extensive directory of doulas. As of March 2011 there are almost 5,300 doulas listed worldwide. Please satisfy yourself as to the training and credentials of any doula you choose as they are not verified by the site.
How Can I Become a Doula?
Training and certification of doulas varies greatly throughout the world. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a doula, visit the DONA International Site for more information on the CD (Certified Doula) and CPD (Certified Post-Partum Doula) certifications that they offer. There is also more detailed information on the steps required for formal training, doula workshops, continuing education and re-certification courses, doula forums and links to various country and regional offices.