Despite an ever-growing number of families using doulas during childbirth and postpartum, there are still many misconceptions about what doulas are and their role in pregnancy, birth and beyond. Read on to get the answer to one of the most common questions about doulas: what exactly does a doula do?
A labor doula usually meets with you and your support person at least twice during pregnancy to learn your personal preferences, priorities, or concerns. They may use this time to review evidence-based materials meant to help you make decisions about various interventions. They will also introduce tools and comfort techniques to use in labor. Your experiences and feelings will be validated and you will feel empowered with knowledge and tools for comfort. Between prenatal sessions, your doula will be available to answer pregnancy related questions via phone, text or email.
Some doulas are members of larger agencies or collectives which offer a whole range of childbirth classes, workshops and support circles. This allows you to become part of a larger community and connect with other parents in the same stage of life as you.
During early labor
As you enter your 37th or 38th week of pregnancy, your doula will go on call for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This means that they will be prepared when you call for support. When contractions begin, they can provide reassurance and remind you of comfort strategies to help you cope with sensations and establish a deeper connection with your partner and baby. Early labor is the longest part of this journey, often lasting 12-18 hours. The unknowns of early labor often propel families to head to the hospital sooner than they need to. Staying home with your confident doula available to answer your questions can be a helpful way to avoid going to the hospital sooner than you need to. Once you are ready for your doula to join you and you request their presence, it can take them up to two hours to get to you (an hour to get out of their life and an hour to get into yours). After they arrive, they will stay for the duration of your labor.
If you are having a home birth, your doula will likely be present before your midwife arrives. Completing the majority of early labor with your doula’s support allows your home birth midwife to maximize their energy for the important task of active labor, pushing, and delivery.
What exactly does a doula do during active labor?
Once active labor begins, your doula will help your family decide when it’s the right time to go to the hospital or birth center, or when it’s time to call your home birth midwife. They will stay with you for continuous support through delivery and will leave once you are settled in with your new baby. Contrary to some concerns that a doula might disturb the privacy and intimacy of birth, part of the role of the doula is to help to create and sustain your family’s privacy. If you’re birthing in the hospital, they will work hard to create buffers for your intimate experience in what can often be a busy, institutional setting. What exactly does a doula do during labor?
During labor, a doula:
- Offers comfort measures such as massage and acupressure
- Provides emotional support such as reassurance, encouragement, and honest praise
- Normalizes the process as it unfolds so that you’re able to feel secure each step of the way
- Suggests ways to improve labor progress or ease discomfort
- Offers unbiased information for any interventions that may arise so that you can make decisions with confidence
- Assists in helping you communicate your needs and decisions to your clinical care team
- Supports your chosen birth team, acting as a resource and guide and making sure their needs are met
- Stays with your family for about an hour after your baby is born to provide support and assist with the initiation of feeding
Now that you know what a doula does during pregnancy and labor, you may be wondering: what exactly does a doula do after birth? Go here for answers about postpartum doula care!
A collaborative piece, written for PDX Birth with the doulas of Brave Birth Doula Care.