The doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. Their purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experience.

Most often the term doula refers to the birth doula or labor support companion. However, there are also antepartum doulas and postpartum doulas. Most of the following information relates to the labor doula. Doulas can also be referred to as labor companions, labor support specialists, labor support professionals, birth assistants, or labor assistants.

DOULA | What is a doula & how they can help

Training and certifications for doulas

You dont need a high school diploma or college degree to be a doula, but you do need to go through training if you want to be certified. In the U.S., approval for most doula training programs is given by Doulas of North America (DONA). The Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) manages worldwide certifications. These training programs are typically a mix of online courses and practical workshops. The subjects you may study during birth training include:

Certification may or may not be a requirement depending on where you live or the person who hires you. However, you should consider becoming certified anyway. It not only gives you more options when looking for work, but it might also give potential clients more confidence in your skills.

What is a doula?

A doula, also known as a “labor companion” or a “birth assistant,” provides physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and after childbirth. Doulas are knowledgeable about the medical aspects of labor and delivery. However, unlike labor and delivery nurses, doulas are not trained to provide medical assistance. Their role is to make the labor and delivery process as comfortable, healthy and emotionally satisfying for the mother as possible.

There are three types of doulas:

Many doulas are trained in all three areas of pregnancy support, though some specialize in either antepartum or postpartum support.

What does a doula do?

The duties and responsibilities of a doula include:

Meeting with the client

Doulas typically meet with their clients several months before the babys due date. During those months, they will get to know one another to ensure that the client feels comfortable speaking with the doula openly and honestly. This allows the doula to answer questions and address any concerns their client may have.

While doulas are not trained to give medical advice or assistance, they typically know enough about the medical procedures to provide useful information. It is normal for doulas to share their contact information with their clients so they can be available to answer questions at any time.

Developing a birth plan

A birth plan is a one-page statement of what the mother wants when labor begins. This includes who the mother may want present at the birth, whether there should be fetal monitoring and whether the mother wants pain-killing drugs. Doulas can help their client think through all the options available and document their wishes ahead of time.

Teaching relaxation and breathing techniques

Doulas can teach their clients relaxation and breathing techniques that can help ease some of the stress and pain of childbirth. These techniques may be useful even in the weeks before labor.

Being present for the duration of labor

From the time the client enters into the hospital until the baby is born, the doula will be with their client providing support and encouragement. During labor, doulas may answer questions their clients may have, as well as practice breathing, relaxation and massage techniques when appropriate.

Advocating for the client during labor and delivery

By the time the client is ready to give birth, doulas know their clients wishes and can help ensure they are followed. This is especially important if the client is unable to express these wishes due to pain or medication.

Assisting the birth partner

The clients birth partner may be a romantic partner, a close friend or a relative. A doulas job is to help them both. In particular, doulas can encourage the birth partner to help comfort the client. Doulas may also answer questions the birth partner might have or step in if the birth partner prefers to observe.

Helping the client with breastfeeding and bonding

Once the baby is born, doulas are available to assist clients who may be having difficulty feeding their baby. Doulas can also encourage bonding between the new baby, the mother and other family members.

Visiting the client after discharge

For a few weeks after the client leaves the hospital, doulas may visit the home to continue providing practical and emotional support. This may include doing light housework, making meals or simply talking. Doulas may even take care of the baby themselves to allow the client to rest.

Providing postpartum support

Postpartum doulas may make regular visits to their client during the entire postpartum period, which can last up to six months. During this time, the doula will provide help to both the client and family as they adjust to having a new baby in the house. This includes providing information to help the client make decisions about child care, as well as facilitating communication between the client and caregivers when necessary.

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