So what is a doula?
Derived from a Greek word that translates as “to serve” or “women’s servant” a doula is a trained professional who offers physical and emotional support to pregnant and postpartum women and their families. There are other amazing kinds of doulas out there (including abortion doulas who do INCREDIBLE work,) but for the purposes of this piece I’m focussing on birth doulas and postpartum doulas.
So what exactly do they do?
The short answer is they do a lot! More specifically doulas offer emotional support, education, and information during pregnancy to both birthing moms and partners. They help physically during labor and provide CONSTANT support. They assist with breastfeeding. They help postpartum to make sure baby is feeding and that you are sleeping and taking care of yourself. Often a doula is the only person who is consistently with you from the time you go into labor to after you baby is born. They are your advocates who help you navigate and interface with your OB/Midwife, making sure you feel empowered and informed.
And why is this important?
Studies have shown that working with a doula providing continuous childbirth support is associated with several positive outcomes including less need for pain medications and lower incidence of cesarean section. More over, working with a doula is associated with a more positive assessment of the birth experience!
As a psychologist, it is this data point that stands out to me the most. Specifically, in my work with my perinatal clients, what I see consistently is that one’s emotional experience of birth is not entirely dependent on type of birth/interventions used (e.g. c-section vs vaginal, medicated vs. unmedicated, etc). Rather it is one’s experience of safety and empowerment, and perception of autonomy and control during labor that is most impactful. Doulas do a tremendous job in supporting that.
Which brings me to why I love collaborating with doulas and encourage all mental health practitioners who work with pregnant and postpartum women to connect with doulas and recommend their patients do the same.
- Doulas are our eye and ears with our patients. I have found that birth and postpartum doulas have more access and more contact with my patients then their medical team does, and are thus able to notice any emotional or physical red flags and connect women with care.
- Doulas can help us screen for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Because doulas work with women in their homes and have close contact with them and their families, they can alert us to any mental health concerns and are equipped to conduct a simple perinatal mental health screenings such as administering the Edinburgh.
- Doulas provide valuable education to our clients about mental health during and after pregnancy.
- Birth doulas do an incredible job supporting women with previous birth traumas, losses, or prior mental health concerns in reducing anxiety, being trauma sensitive, and helping women to feel empowered during labor. They are often the best advocates for our patients.
- Postpartum doulas make sure our clients are eating, sleeping, and engaging in basic self-care which is hugely important in preventing postpartum mood and anxiety concerns.
So thank you doulas! We celebrate you this week and always.
For more information about working with a doula check out https://www.dona.org/. Stay tuned to future posts where I plan to feature interviews with some of my favorite doulas on the work they do supporting women’s health.
Photo by greendoula