By definition, a birth doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother before, during and after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.
Studies show that continuous support during pregnancy can greatly decrease use of pain medication during birth, instances of surgical births, and length of labor.
While having a partner can be an essential part of birthing, many partners have limited knowledge about birth, medical procedures, or what goes on in a hospital. Doulas have knowledge and experience about all of these things, and can use them to inform and support both the partner and birthing person.
Ideally, doulas and partners can work together to make up a support team.
Doula care can also greatly improve pregnancy outcomes for people of color. Black women experience higher rates of poor birth outcomes, including higher rates of cesarean sections, preterm birth, low birth weight, and infant death. Doulas can help with birthing outcomes by providing knowledge about the birthing process and giving parents a sense of safety and security.
Those who stand to benefit the most from doula care tend to have it the least, which means that increasing awareness of doulas and the support they provide essential.
And while we’re talking about increasing awareness, language matters. The word doula originates from Greek, and translates to “woman servant” or “woman slave”. It is important to know that the word “birthkeeper” can be used interchangeably with the word doula. While there are many people in this field who are reclaiming the usage of “doula” to its modern definition, some prefer to use alternatives like birthkeeper, as they feel it is more encompassing of the type of support provided in this role.
Types of Birth Doulas
If you have heard the word doula before, it was likely in reference to a birth doula. Although this is the more “traditional” role, there are actually several other types of doulas.
A postpartum doula provides support after a baby is born during a period of time commonly referred to as the fourth trimester. The transition of bringing a new baby home can be difficult for some families, and that’s why postpartum support is really important.
Postpartum birthkeepers typically assist with emotional support, breastfeeding, light housework, running errands, meal preparation, and sibling care. To put it simply, postpartum doulas are an extra set of hands and a buffer between new parents and the outside world who prevents the post-baby bliss from coming to a screeching halt.
In most cases, a postpartum doula is also a labor and birth doula, and can also assist with birth. The role of a birth doula includes, but is not limited to, being on call for the birth and coaching new mothers both emotionally and physically.
Birth doulas are able to provide unbiased support and advocacy during delivery, whether it’s in a birthing center, in a hospital, or at home. They provide resources and assist with creating a birth plan to facilitate the most optional birthing experience for you and your growing family.
Antepartum doulas take on similar roles as birth doulas, however, they have specific knowledge in assisting with high risk pregnancies. This skillset is crucial for parents who may be on bedrest, or those who need to see their care provider more frequently.
Antepartum Doulas provide emotional support, help with birthing anxieties, and are able to liaison between medical professionals and the parents to help prepare them to make important decisions.
There are also birthkeepers that can offer support for ANY birthing situation you may be in. This can include, but is not limited to bereavement, adoption, and abortion.
If you are in need of doula support, the website DoulaMatch.net is a great place to start. Most, if not all doulas offer low cost or sliding scale payment options . Additionally, there are companies like Dove, that are offering grants for as much as $1,300 to Black pregnant women or birthing people through its Black Birth Equity Fund. And if you’ve taken the plunge and decided you’re ready to work with a doula, here is a list of interview questions to ask if you are unsure how to begin to facilitate the process of hiring a doula.