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Doula Support Services for Women During Pregnancy, Labor, and Delivery

When you’re about to become a mother, the process of childbirth can be eased and smoothed by the services of a labor support person, called a doula. A doula is not a doctor, nurse or midwife. She performs no medical procedures or obstetrics, but research has found that the presence of a doula at delivery results in easier, quicker labor, lessened need for pain medication and other medical interventions, fewer fetal problems at delivery and healthier babies. Women who hire a doula for labor or postpartum support tend to breastfeed their babies easier and longer, experience fewer negative emotional effects after childbirth and bond better with their babies.

Training and Education for Your Labor Coach

There is no rigid certification process for doulas, but there are training programs: your doula should have studied the physiology and emotional needs of pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period. Labor or childbirth doulas will meet with you at least once when you’re expecting: the number of prenatal meetings you have will vary widely by the professional you hire. Some doulas will even provide postnatal services for up to a year.

Emotional Support During Childbirth

During labor, a doula will provide the emotional and practical support that most women can’t expect from the nurses or obstetricians, and that partners may not be in a position to provide throughout the labor. Your doula may give you a massage, practice reflexology or aromatherapy to ease contractions, and suggest alternative positions for coping with labor pains. Your doula may also be able to help you get what you want from medical practitioners: you’ll have an ally if you want to request (demand) or refuse an epidural, someone to stand by you if the obstetrician decides to induce labor, and a hand to hold during labor induction.

If your partner is stressed by the labor, the doula takes the heat off. If your partner really comes unglued during delivery, you still have someone who can assist you in creating a happy childbirth experience—and coach new dads on baby care and mom support that can positively impact the whole family. A good doula will help Dad so as much as he’s comfortable with, and can pick up the slack when he needs a break.

Postpartum Support

Doulas also provide help around the house after the baby comes, providing parent education, information about nursing and natural and home remedies. If you have problems breastfeeding, your doula may be able to suggest different strategies to comfort both mom and baby. Some doulas also help siblings cope with the new addition, so your baby doesn’t remain a “little stranger” to his brothers and sisters.

The services provided by your doula will affect the cost: some hospitals even provide volunteer doulas. Doula philosophies vary: some doulas specialize in helping lesbian couples; others help older mothers or mothers of children with special needs. Christian doula organizations provide religiously based childcare services, often in conjunction with private Christian hospitals.

Finding a Doula

Finding the right doula requires some questions. You’ll want to know about her training, her philosophy and her experience. Most of all, you want someone who makes you feel comfortable and inspires confidence. After all, you’re taking on a big task: you want a partner you can trust.
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