The Role of a Birth Doula
According to Penny Simkin (2008) in her book The Birth Partner, a birth doula “guides and supports women and their partners continuously through labor and birth” (p. 8).
A doula is trained in how to offer physical comfort and emotional support to laboring women. She provides information to help you make decisions and to plan for the birth you want. As you decide about the use of pain medication, she will support you. If you want to give birth without medication, she will help you. She will never be away from you for more than a few minutes, unless you want time alone with your partner. She may help you into a warm tub or shower. She may walk with you or suggest position changes. Perhaps she will massage your back, hands, or feet. After the birth, a doula usually stays with you to make sure things go well and to provide support as you begin breastfeeding your baby.
Doulas are not trained to perform any medical or nursing tasks. They should never offer medical advice. However, they will help you understand medical events. They can encourage you to talk with the hospital staff about your wishes. If your labor takes a different path than expected, a doula can help you sort out your feelings and discuss your choices.
One of the most important roles a doula plays is to help you have the best possible memory of your birth. After the birth, you will remember together the best parts of your birth experience. She will answer any questions you may have. If your birth experience did not go as you had planned, your doula will be there to listen to you and offer support.
The Doula and the Labor Partner
Most husbands or partners want to be present for the birth of their child. They want to be supportive. However, most men and some women are inexperienced with childbirth. As your contractions become more intense and you deal with pain, your partner may become frightened. He or she may not know whether your labor is progressing as it should. It may become more difficult for your partner to reassure you. Most partners breathe sighs of relief when an experienced childbirth professional, such as a doula, is present to assure them that labor is going just fine. A good doula takes her cues from the labor partner. If your partner is sitting close to you, holding your hand, and providing eye-to-eye contact and supportive words, the doula will not interfere. Instead, she will support and encourage both of you. However, if you need more support than your partner can give, the doula will work with your partner. She might give you a back or foot massage while your partner provides eye-to-eye contact and reassuring words. Or she may suggest a change of activity, a new position, or a comfort measure you and your partner have not tried. The doula can show your partner how to give counter-pressure or massage. She also can offer support while your partner takes a much needed bathroom or meal break