In recent years, the popularity of doulas – women who assist and support mothers-to-be through childbirth – has markedly risen. In 1994, according to Doulas of North America International, there were 31 certified doulas in the United States. Today, there are more than 2,000 certified by DONA and other doula associations.

The growth is fueled in part by the demand and need for different birthing options and experiences. Research suggests doulas can provide significant health benefits to mother and newborn – and some insurance companies have begun to reimburse for doula fees.

Still, it’s probably safe to say most people don’t know what exactly a doula does, particularly in a hospital maternity room that may already be crowded with doctors, nurses and family members.

We asked Ann Fulcher, program manager of the University of California San Diego Hearts & Hands Volunteer Doula Program, which provides free services to families at the UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest, to explain what doulas do and why.

Q: What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife?

A: Doulas often get linked with midwives because of the perception that they both serve only women who want a certain kind of prenatal care and birth experience that avoids medical interventions, including pharmaceutical pain management like epidurals. That perception is incorrect for both doulas and midwives.

Doulas are trained to provide nonmedical supportive care. Midwives are licensed health care providers who offer a full spectrum of well-woman care including prenatal and postpartum health care. They are experts in normal childbirth, including vaginal births after a previous cesarean, and other certain situations that require a somewhat higher level of medical care. Certified nurse-midwives working in hospitals, who write many kinds of prescriptions, including orders for pain relief drugs, are ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of mother and baby.

The hallmark of doula care is the continuous presence of an experienced woman who has no clinical responsibilities and so is free to focus on the whole family’s personal needs all the way through the birth experience. Doulas support women with epidurals as well as those who choose to forgo drugs, encouraging each to make their own choices. They work with both doctors’ and midwives’ patients, and see normal as well as high-risk births.

Q: Why is labor support important? How much of a difference does it make whether that support comes from a doula, a doctor, a friend or a family member?

A: I would venture to say that labor support is as important as medical care in many situations because it has been proven to have a strong impact on health outcomes. Doula care has been shown to decrease the length of labor (thus decreasing the odds of problems that can develop when labors are drawn out), decrease the need for medical inventions that have unwanted side effects and decrease the need for pain medication for women wishing to avoid it. Also, there are a lot of data showing a significantly lower cesarean section rate where doulas are present, and that’s good for everyone.

The fact that doulas are specifically trained and experienced in providing labor support makes them more effective than family and friends who are unfamiliar with the birthing room.

Order by: 
Per page: 
  • There are no comments yet
0 votes