WHAT IS A DOULA?
It is a unique word!! It happens to be a Greek word, and it means “woman’s servant.” In ancient times, the doula would attend to the needs of the woman of the house. Today, we find a doula may provide birth and/or postpartum care. Let’s differentiate between the two types of doulas:
Birth Doula • (birth comes first )
A birth doula is a person professionally trained to provide support to the woman and her partner during labor and childbirth, while a postpartum doula is a supportive advisor and helper professionally trained to provide support to the mother and her family after their baby arrives (the postpartum period is generally considered to be the 3 months or 12 weeks after birth.)
The birth doula has a pretty specific routine, meeting with parents-to-be at least twice prenatally, prior to labor and birth, and reviewing what parents can expect during labor and the actual birthing of the baby.
They go through and discuss what the parents have maybe already thought about or experienced, what they have heard about, and try to clarify any of their questions, helping them establish what is referred to as a birth plan. This allows everybody to be on the same page including all birth professionals the expectant parents have chosen to assist them with the birthing of the baby. Ideally the birth doula and couple begin their relationship by the last trimester of the pregnancy. The two prenatal visits can take place during the last three months so that they are all comfortable with each other prior to the birth.
The birth doula will then also be available for consultations by phone or email throughout the remainder of the pregnancy. She will be there for support when actual labor begins, going to the couple’s home if they request, accompanying them for the birth wherever they have chosen to deliver. She will stay with them until the baby arrives and usually for at least a couple of hours after.
Birth doulas will also make at least one postpartum visit with a couple, just to make sure that everything is going well. It is an opportunity to see how the new family is doing – how the baby is, how the mom is feeling, and allows the mom and doula to review together the mom’s experience with her birth.
Being a Postpartum Doula is where my focus and passion lies. The function may change from day to day and from family to family. It depends on the actual needs as a postpartum doula’s role is to do whatever a mother or father needs to best enjoy and care for their baby – mostly education, providing and sharing information about general infant care as well as teaching siblings and partners how they can help in mothering the mother. It is that support and general knowledge which can help everything go so much more smoothly in the transition to becoming a parent.
The postpartum doula will assist with breastfeeding education and make sure that the mother is well-hydrated, well-fed, comfortable, and is hopefully getting as much rest as possible enabling her to conserve energy and nurture her infant.
The postpartum doula focuses on areas of support the couple anticipates they will need once their baby arrives. The better someone can understand the individual or the individuals involved, the better able they are to support them, and so to do their best, both birth and the postpartum doulas want to spend some time with the expectant parents. Discussions ideally take place about whatever the expectations are and what the expectant couple believe their requirements may be. This way, what can make a tremendous difference is having somebody from the beginning who is objective and calm, assisting and supporting everyone from the nuclear to extended members of the family.
Postpartum support doesn’t need to be for an elongated period of time. It’s not a matter of how much time the postpartum doula spends with the family. It’s a major transition for all – while there’s only one member that has been introduced, it shifts the dynamic. Everybody’s role has now changed to some extent. Having someone there who is impartial and able to provide anecdotal as well as evidence based information has been shown to make a tremendous difference in how everybody adjusts to their new role.