Why You Should Hire a Doula for Your Next Childbirth

A hippie birth coach is really the way to go.

Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States should be ashamed of our birth outcomes. As a nation, we spend more on healthcare than any other country in the world. Between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality rates have more than doubled—from about 12 to 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, basically half of these deaths are preventable. Black women in the U.S. are four times more likely than white women to die in childbirth from complications, and 25 percent of U.S. women receive no or inadequate prenatal care.

Doulas—a kind of freelance pregnancy and birth coach—aren’t a magic cure to what ails our obstetrical system, but they are part of a push in a new direction that is more patient-centered and can result in better birth outcomes. The role of a doula is an ancient one. Women have been supporting each other in birth for centuries, but the role they fill has long been missing in the U.S.

Doulas are non-medically trained birth attendants who give continuous support to laboring women, often with prenatal and postpartum support too. Doulas provide emotional, physical, and social support to their clients, as well as education and advocacy. The doula supports any safe birth option that their client is aiming for.

If you or someone you know is in the position of having a baby—pregnant, they call it—you probably should consider enlisting a doula, really.

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1. A doula offers personalized care and around-the-clock support.

Most doulas make themselves available every day (within reason) to answer questions and address concerns. Once you're closer to your due date, your doula is on call 24/7. 

During birth, a doula doesn’t leave mama’s side except for the occasional bathroom break. While nurses in hospitals are there to support you, they have other patients. A doula’s purpose is to give undivided support and attention to her client throughout the entire childbirth process. 

“She wasn’t bothered by what I was going through, where, I felt like my husband might have sympathy for me that I was going through pain, but I didn’t want sympathy," recalls a woman who gave birth with the aid of a doula. "I feel like sympathy makes me weaker in some way; so I wanted the objectivity of like, 'This is just normal, normal birth pain; you're fine. It's all going really well.' The doula was right there, doing that."

2. A doula offers advocacy and education.

Prenatal visits with doulas help ensure that clients will be giving informed consent during birth—especially in a hospital setting where decisions are made quickly. Knowing that a doula's knowledge and support will follow you throughout your experience adds confidence. But don’t expect your doula to make decisions for you. The doula arms clients with the educational tools, suggestions, and encouragement necessary to make their own best decisions on the tough calls.

Britany, a nurse and doula client, wanted a doula in the hospital to help voice her decisions: “I know what it's like to be a nurse, and I know that with labor and delivery nurses, I wouldn’t be their only patient. They’re in and out. They're here, they’re there… not there by my side the whole time.” 

The role of a doula is an ancient one. women have been supporting each other in birth for centuries, but the role they fill has long been missing in the United States. 

3. A doula offers physical support.

Childbirth can be a positive experience, but expect pain, exhaustion, and discomfort. In a hospital setting, pain-relief drugs might be administered, and some new mothers might strive for alternative pain-relief methods. In either case, extra physical support may still be needed. 

A doula can bring everything from music to snacks to aromatherapy. Doulas are ready with massage, pressurized touch, assistance in a warm shower or bath, suggestions to shift positioning, to take a walk. Doulas carry props like a birthing ball and yoga strap. You might expect burning sage, chanting, and naked people with flowers in their hair. Again, the approaches a doula employs are solely up to her client. Some women want constant touch; some want to be left alone. 

“We had established in prenatal visits that I loved to be touched, always, and in any way. So my husband and her were just stroking my hair, or massaging my feet," says one satisfied doula client. "My husband put a lot of pressure on my lower back. We also did a lot of walking. Either her or my husband would hold me, and we would kind of sway during contractions." 

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4. A doula offers social and emotional support.

The majority of women give birth in hospitals, which some proponents argue is unnecessary. Within obstetrics, birth is often thought of as a solely physical process, creating a tendency to constantly monitor and control the body. In focusing solely on the body, the impact of emotion on birth outcomes can be lost.

A doula eases fears and anxieties to promote more pain-free and intervention-free births. A doula “holds the space” to create an intimate and comfortable environment. She provides gentle reassurances that things are progressing normally, and that your body can handle birth. A doula reminds mama to breath, to meditate, to be calm, to remember her strength, to remember the reward.

"From the second she walked in the door she was just so containing, and so, like, motherly," remembers another doula client, "just taking charge, so supportive, and like right next to me the whole time, and calm.” 

A doula can aid partners and family members as well. She can take on duties so mates can take a catnap or recharge. Additionally, doulas can give loved ones tips on how to be helpful postpartum. This support is believed to lessen the incidence of postpartum depression. 

5. A doula's support can lead to shorter labor.

Plain and simple, more and more research indicates that the continuous labor support doulas provide can shorten the length of labor! Who doesn’t want that? 

One study concluded, "providing low-income pregnant women with the option to choose a female friend who has received lay doula training and will act as doula during labor, along with other family members, shortens the labor process."

6. Doulas reduce complications and interventions. 

Numerous studies point to how the doula's personalized and holistic care can contribute to fewer complications, interventions and medications—less cesareans, Pitocin and epidurals, fewer forceps or vacuum extractions. 

"I like to do things as naturally as possible," says Tricia, another doula client, "with as little intervention as possible. There are so many negative effects on interventions. For me, the perfect mix is having a support group and a medical professional.”

Image sydnihoney via VSCO

As a nation we spend more on healthcare than any other country in the world, yet between 1990 and 2013 maternal mortality rates have more than doubled, and half of these deaths are preventable.

7. A doula is known to help deliver healthy babies.

Every new mama can agree that they want a healthy baby. One study showed that doula-assisted babies were more easily breastfed and had healthier birth weights. Another study correlates continuous labor support with greater infant bonding. A lot of doulas check in postpartum to ensure that breastfeeding is going okay, and that postpartum depression isn’t an issue. Some might even bring food or help care for older children. 

One woman's doula primed her in their prenatal visits to think about life after birth. “She encouraged us to get food set up. The first two weeks after the birth, we had people bringing us food almost everyday. She was constantly texting. She was great that way."