intensely trivial

Why you should have a doula at your baby’s birth

A dear friend of mine is expecting a baby in the coming months, and after deliberating a while, I offered to attend her birth as her doula. It was a tricky decision, because I would never want to insinuate myself into a birth where I wasn’t wanted, but on the other hand, I completely believe that any birthing woman who wants a doula should have one. (Truthfully, don’t tell anybody this, but I’d travel many miles, forgo payment, and give up hours of sleep to serve a birthing woman, no matter how she gives birth, because it’s the right thing to do — and I love it.)
Offering to attend my friend’s birth provided an occasion to imagine the decision-making process for expectant mothers and fathers. In true doula fashion, I hope to help more people make an informed decision about the birth attendants they choose. This is the first part of a two-part article on why you might, or might not, want to have a doula when you give birth.


1. Constant support. Except for bathroom breaks or errands for you, I never leave. No matter what happens, you can count on my presence. (Of course, if you needed a break from me, you could tell me; I’d like to think I could figure it out, and my ego could handle it.) Some labor nurses would like to provide constant support, but their attention is divided among various patients and charting duties. A doula, on the other hand, doesn’t go off duty. Even if your birth takes 36 hours or more, your doula will still be there.
2. Having your felt needs met, and your partner’s, too. “Doula” comes from the Greek word for “servant.” Doulas know where the warm blankets are; they can bring you or your partner a drink, massage tired muscles, help you get to the bathroom, give your partner space to take a nap or get a breath of fresh air. There’s a reason their role is often described as “mothering the mother.”
3. An experienced fellow traveler on the journey of birth. Although birth is as old as time, the exact course of birth is an unknown until it’s over. Having someone there to say, “Yes, that’s the way,” or “This is a good sign,” or “You’re almost there!” can make a big difference in your morale (and your partner’s!).
4. Ideas for comfort and progress. Whether you use pain meds or not, your doula can suggest ways to cope with labor, and ways to encourage your body and your baby to work together. For example, sometimes a simple position change is all it takes to turn an exceedingly difficult back labor into a normal labor. I’ve had labor nurses ask me for suggestions in these areas; this is one area in which doulas excel. Although ideally you could simply listen to your body and find your own way through these difficult times, you might prefer to have someone help you find solutions to your problems. Dads really appreciate this, too!
5. Someone in your corner. Unfortunately, sometimes the words and actions of partners, medical staff, and other family members disempower the laboring woman at the time she needs to feel strongest. A doula’s job is to support your choices in birth, to validate what you are wanting or experiencing. Yes, she’ll listen to what the medical staff is saying, but her role is to give you space to make your own informed decisions.
6. Postpartum follow-up. Obviously, birth is only the beginning! A doula will not only stay with you for the first hour or two after the birth, supporting initial breastfeeding and making sure you’re comfortable, but she will also call and visit in the first days and weeks after baby’s arrival. She’s available to listen, help you process your birth experience, offer advice (or not), or refer you to needed resources in those sometimes-desperate first days home. In a culture that offers pitiful support to new mothers, a doula can help ensure a smooth transition.

OK, obviously I am biased about doulas. I think doulas are wonderful, and I think you should hire ME! But, to be fair, there are bad reasons to hire (or otherwise engage) a doula. (In Part 2 of this article, I’ll list good reasons not to hire a doula, and bad reasons not to hire a doula. Of course, we need to examine this from all angles! Informed decision-making, and all that — and that’s just the way I am, even if it’s kind of redundant.)


1. Worrying she’ll be hurt if you don’t invite her to the birth. (This can get you in trouble regarding best friends and the baby’s grandparents and other such entourage-y types, too.) In short, no one should be at the birth that the mother doesn’t want there. Period. Being in a situation that your primal self interprets as stressful will shut down your labor. We are created that way. Other animals are, too. Trying to take care of other people’s emotional needs during birth means you probably won’t be able to labor normally.
2. Thinking a doula can judge your labor progress or predict what will happen. Now, sometimes a doula can do this correctly just by observing you. We doulas would like to think we’re pretty intuitive and observant. But don’t depend on a doula to do this. For various reasons, most doulas will not check cervical dilation, blood pressure, or your baby’s heart tones. If you want that information, look it up online, and learn how to do it yourself.
3. Thinking a doula can guarantee a certain kind of birth for you. While the results of a meta-analysis of labor-support studies show a doula’s presence is a factor in lowering the incidence of cesarean, episiotomy, and epidural use, among other things, and increasing satisfaction with the birth experience, you are still ultimately responsible for your birth. If you want me to, during labor I can remind you of the goals you told me about prenatally, but ultimately, it’s your birth. Taking away your freedom to choose is (ahem) abusive, no matter who does it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, in which we examine the choice not to engage a doula. I can’t wait to go there! šŸ™‚


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Considering NOT having a doula at your baby’s birth « intensely trivial pingbacked on 8 years, 1 month ago


  1. Thanks for thinking this all out for everyone. šŸ™‚ Seriously…these two posts are helpful.

    Posted 8 years, 1 month ago

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