A doula (professional labor assistant) provides physical and emotional support to you and your partner during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.
For instance, a doula might offer:
- Attention to physical comfort through techniques such as touch and massage and assistance with breathing
- Emotional reassurance, comfort and encouragement
- Information about what's happening during labor and the postpartum period, including explanations of procedures
- Help with facilitating communication between you and the hospital staff
- Guidance and support for loved ones
- Assistance with breast-feeding
Often, however, a doula's most important role is to provide continuous support during labor and delivery. Although research is limited, some studies have shown that continuous support from doulas during childbirth might be associated with:
- A decreased use of pain relief medication during labor
- A decreased incidence of C-sections
- A decrease in the length of labor
- A decrease in negative childbirth experiences
A doula might add another opinion to the mix when decisions need to be made about labor and delivery. However, a doula doesn't provide medical advice as a midwife or obstetric doctor would do or replace the role of your health care team. Also, fees and insurance coverage vary.
If you're interested in hiring a doula, ask your health care provider, childbirth instructor, family or friends for recommendations. You might also contact your local hospital for a referral.
When interviewing a potential doula, ask about his or her training, how many births he or she has attended, his or her philosophy about childbirth, what services he or she provides, and the cost. Also, discuss your preferences and concerns about pregnancy, labor and delivery.