A labour doula is a trained childbirth professional who provides resources to pregnant women and their partners and provides one-on-one physical and emotional support during labour and birth. A labour doula can attend any type of birth in any setting with any type of health-care provider (e.g. midwife, GP, obstetrician). Doulas do not perform clinical tasks such as vaginal exams or blood pressure tests. The primary function of a labour doula is to provide support and information needed so that women can have the safest and most satisfying birth experiences possible, as defined by them.
Hiring a doula can have a significant impact on the quality of your birth experience. Having a healthy baby and being healthy yourself are, of course, everyone’s top priority. A doula can help you to find credible and current information that will help you to develop a birth plan that is based on solid evidence, meaning that you can make choices that will affect your body and your baby’s body prentally, during labour and birth and in the postpartum. A doula will also help you to self-advocate before and during labour so that your choices are heard and respected by your health-care practitioners.
Beyond the fundamental importance of a safe and healthy birth, are the vitally important psychological and emotional factors that come in to play when you have a baby. Every woman deserves to have a birth experience that is free from trauma, humiliation and fear. Having continuous, one-on-one support from a knowledgeable, compassionate and experienced support person has been empirically shown to have significant impacts on how women feel about their births for decades after. Down-sides or negative side-effects have never been found to be associated with the presence of a doula.
Below is a sampling of some of the proven benefits of doula care.
In terms of decreasing rates of medical intervention, the presence of a doula*:
- Reduces need for Caesareans by 26%
- Reduces the need for forceps or vacuum extractor by 41%
- Reduces use of pain medication by 28%
- Reduces dissatisfaction with birth by 33%
- Reduces length of labour
Six weeks after birth, mothers who had doulas:
- Were less anxious and depressed
- Had more confidence with their babies
- Were more satisfied with their partners
- Were more likely to be breastfeeding
*These statistics appear in Hodnett E, Gates S, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003. Issue 3, Art. No. CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.
For more about the research, see http://www.dona.org/publications/position_paper_birth.php
No wonder Dr. J. Kennell said, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”