What is a doula?
A doula is "a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible." (DONA International)
How is a doula different from a midwife?
A midwife is a skilled healthcare provider who monitors the health of the mother and baby and can manage emergencies, if they arise. Doulas are non-medical support persons who provide physical and emotional support for the laboring mother and her family.
In February 2017, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a committee opinion "Approaches to Limit Interventions During Labor and Birth," which affirms the role of doulas at births. "Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-on-one emotional support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor. Benefits found in randomized trials include shortened labor, decreased need for analgesia, fewer operative deliveries, and fewer reports of dissatisfaction with the experience of labor."
If you plan to give birth in a hospital, you should definitely without question hire a doula!
If you are planning a homebirth with a midwife, I still enthusiastically recommend having a doula at your birth, especially for first-time parents.
While your midwife provides information and emotional support and also knows good tricks to provide you with physical comfort during labor, your doula will provide *continuous* emotional support and physical comfort.
Your midwife will typically arrive or stay with you once you are in active labor.
Your doula will come as soon as you need her support.
Your midwife is responsible for making sure you and your baby stay safe, and there are other tasks she will need to be doing. Assessing. Documenting. Setting up, checking equipment. Maybe even eating or napping —you want her to be fresh and clear-headed in case she needs to make quick decisions. And you certainly won't want that counter pressure or back rub to stop while she's attending to other tasks! You also won't want her arms to be jello after hours of hip squeezes if she needs to manage a shoulder dystocia or provide neonatal resuscitation. In this situation, while your midwife's attention is sharply focused on managing a complication, your doula's attention is focused on your emotional well-being.
Your doula will stay by your and your partner’s sides.
I see doulas as a valuable member of the birth team. I know several fabulous doulas and am happy share recommendation.