Doulas: Supporting Women Through Labor
Throughout history, women have always provided support and help to other women during childbirth. Anthropological data as well as historical artwork shows that women were rarely left alone during labor and delivery. In fact, a woman preparing to give birth was almost always surrounded by at least two other women. One, a nurse midwife, assisted with the baby’s birth, while the other provided continuous comfort and reassurance to the birth mother.
Today, this age-old practice of bringing comfort and reassurance to the birth mother, in effect “mothering the mother,” has re-emerged in the form of the modern “doula.”
What is a doula?
Local resident Renee Johnson has been working as a doula even before her profession was called “doula.” Since 1980, she has been teaching childbirth classes and providing consistent reassurance, comfort, encouragement, and respect to women during childbirth. In 1992, she founded “Birth Help,” an organization committed to helping women and their partners achieve a safe and satisfying birth experience.
According to Johnson, doulas do not perform clinical tasks, such as vaginal exams or fetal heart rate monitoring, and they do not give medical advice or make medical decisions for their clients. Rather, doulas fill another important role. They provide emotional and informational support to women and their partners during childbirth.
Making a difference
It’s a misunderstanding, however, to think doulas completely take the place of the husband or birth father during childbirth. According to Johnson, the doula and the father of the baby provide essential support for each other. Together they make the perfect team with each playing a unique role in helping the mother.
“The doula can guide the partner, giving him more confidence,” said Johnson.
Is there any type of woman or birth situation that would benefit the most from using a doula? Research gathered by DONA, Doulas of North America, a national organization that certifies, promotes and supports doulas, shows that when a doula is introduced into the labor room, the bond between mother and infant is enhanced as well as the mother’s self-esteem.
According to Renee Harris, MD, a gynecologist and obstetrician in private practice, using a doula is a personal choice that she has found can help a patient feel better.
“I’ve had several patients use a doula and have found that the experience was very good for them,” said Harris. “The doula provided a measure of control for each patient.”
The age of the expectant mother is also a factor to consider. Harris added that doulas benefit very young patients by enhancing their knowledge about what is happening during pregnancy and what will happen during labor and delivery.
Women without partners
Women without partners also benefit from the support of a doula during childbirth. While obstetrician-gynecologist Charles Lawler, MD, at Woman’s Hospital, sees the doula role filled mainly by family members, he believes a woman who is single, or one who doesn’t have a mother, sister, or friend to take the place of her partner could gain valuable support and encouragement through childbirth by using a doula.
Johnson and her group find satisfaction in helping women from all walks of life achieve a safe and rewarding birth experience.
As certified doulas and trainers with DONA, they teach other women to do what they do through an
apprentice program, and continually work hard to protect the professional reputation they have achieved. They encourage all women to visit the DONA website for more information on doulas.
“I think for most women, satisfaction (in using a doula) comes from getting want they want from their childbirth experience and participating in the process,” said Johnson.
“For me, satisfaction is seeing all women reach a safe, healthy, and satisfying birth,” she added.