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The Purpose and Value of Labor Support

By Cheryl K. Baker AAHCC, CD

Doula is a Greek word referring to a woman in the service of another. Today it refers to a female birth assistant who provides physical and emotional support during labor, without medical assessments of fetal or maternal well-being. A doula has been trained to understand the normal process of labor and respects the natural way a woman's body functions during this wondrous experience. She allows the laboring couple the freedom to experience birth as a team, participating as an objective guide, lending encouragement and support when needed.

A doula is a woman who understands and believes in the natural process of labor and a woman's ability to birth. She helps a woman work through and with the pain of labor. She provides emotional support during the pregnancy, labor and the postpartum periods. She can help the couple prepare a birth plan for their medical team and hospital or birth center. She is trained in providing comfort measures for pain relief such as massage, movement, breathing, relaxation, visualization, hydrotherapy and much more. A doula helps support the partner so that they can love and support the laboring woman. She will be able to help you understand medical intervention or advice from the medical team. She will not make decisions for you, speak for you or provide clinical or medical procedures.

Klaus, Kennell, and Klaus (1993) reported many benefits of having labor support. Results of six different studies were calculated together to show what the presence of a Doula could do for you.

Reduced the overall cesarean rate by 50%,

The length of labor was shortened by 25%

Reduced the epidural requests by 60%

Reduced oxytocin (pitocin) by 40%

Reduced use of analgesia by 30%

Reduced forceps deliveries by 40%

Many couples feel that they have studied the process of labor and the various techniques provided during their childbirth preparation classes but don't feel qualified to act as a labor authority. They may feel that the guidance and support that they receive from a Doula gives them relief from having to know it all. The doula's experience gives both parents a sense of calm, enabling them to interact in a loving and peaceful way.

A woman's labor partner may be helped with the doula's knowledge and acceptance of pain during labor, understanding it as a normal part of her body's work, thus allowing him/her to feel confident in her body's ability to birth. This confidence will allow the labor coach to help the laboring woman by instilling confidence in her and assuring her that she is strong and capable.

A Doula is sensitive to the laboring couple and respects the couple's relationship. She will be able to step back and allow the couple to work at their own comfort level. She may guide the labor partner or when needed involve him/her gently, complimenting and strengthening his/her role as the coach. She will never take the place of the partner; she will nurture and support the couple.

Doulas are able to help women no matter what type of childbirth classes they have attended. They are all well versed in the different types of breathing techniques and various relaxation and comfort methods.

Doulas must know or learn communication skills. They must be able to effectively convey empathy and provide comfort through touch, words and actions. They will not only be communicating with the couple and their family but with the hospital staff and the medical provider. They have attended births in all local hospitals and birth centers, thereby developing a relationship with the staffs there. This gives Doulas the acceptance from the medical community as an integral part of the birth team. The Doulas skills for working with laboring families are greatly appreciated by the medical staff and recognized as a much-needed asset.

A Doula wants every birth to be special and feels that every woman has the capability to experience labor as a natural and normal process, drawing on her inner strengths to cope with the intensity of her body's work. A Doula will help to provide the emotional support that it may take to find those strengths; She will encourage the mother through words, touch and expressions. She will support, nurture and mother her. She will remind her of the work that she has done and help her to rest during the breaks. She will help her attend to your needs.

Since all Doulas have special training in labor techniques, she understands the hard work that the laboring mother must do. A Doula will keep the woman informed about her progress through labor and remind her of different relaxation techniques to help her through those stages. She may help her to create a visual image to help her focus. She may encourage movement, showers or provide massages. She will help to keep the woman on track. She will do what ever it takes to help the couple have the birth they have planned.

A Doula is not afraid of hard work. She understands that labor takes as long as it needs to be. She will be with the couple through the entire hospital or birth center labor and delivery, staying with them until they are settled and ready to begin their experience as a new family. She will make sure that the mother and new baby have time to initiate breast-feeding. She can help her with some of the problems new mom's may encounter after delivery and suggest ways of dealing with them.

In the event of complications a Doula will be able to explain the circumstances, helping the couple to understand the suggested alternatives. She is a soothing and calming advocate, helping the family to interact with the medical team. She may also accompany them into surgery if they desire, (with permission from your doctor) if a cesarean becomes necessary.

A Doula is there to support the desires and requests of the laboring family. This is her birth, we want them to have a wonderful memory and experience. Our goal is to have healthy Moms and Babies.


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