There are multiple kinds of doulas, but most simply, doulas provide support. Birth doulas work with one mother throughout the whole birth, and have no other obligations or time constraints like nurses, midwives, or doctors. They provide physical, emotional, and educational support. Doulas work directly with the mother to provide natural pain and stress management. They are available wherever a woman chooses to give birth. A doula can complement a home birth, assist in a birth center, or help keep a hospital birth relaxed and make sure that the hospital staff knows your wishes.
Doulas are not only a source of strength to the mother. If a partner is present, doulas provide support to their partner, too. Doulas free up a mother’s friends and family to be supportive, instead of worrying about remembering what they’ve studied in a book or at a class.
Doulas prevent unnecessary interventions by supporting parents to be their own advocate. Studies show that having a doula results in lower c-section rates, lowered instances of forceps deliveries, fewer episiotomies, fewer epidurals, and fewer uses of oxytocin (pitocin). Doulas also results in more spontaneous births, shorter labors, better apgar scores, and higher rates of breastfeeding, both at birth and more than a month out. Women who have used doulas report their births as less difficult and painful, and report a better experience overall.
Doulas may also have other complimentary certifications, like Lactation Consultant, Childbirth Educator, and Massage Therapist.
It is wise to start looking for doula services around 30 weeks. This gives you time to meet your doula and make sure that they have a personality that complements yours, and make sure they have the training and experience to assist at your birth.