What does a doula do?

Dads and family are essential, but a doula’s special training may bring much-needed support and expertise to the delivery experience.
A doula is a critical source of information for expectant moms, leading them to resources that dads and others may not know about. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

I’m a former labor and delivery nurse. I’ve never worked as a doula.

Well, not quite. I recently had the pleasure of being in a “doula-like” position when my daughter and son-in-law had their first baby!

Dads are very helpful in labor. We all know this.

But if you would like even better statistics and outcomes in your birthing experience, you may want to consider hiring a doula.

Our providers at Spectrum Health Gerber Hospital encourage patients to have a doula. (I explored this recently in a story about the many options available to today’s pregnant moms.)

To learn more about the role of a doula, I interviewed Rebekah Thompson, one of our local doulas in Newaygo County, Michigan.

Q: What made you interested in becoming a doula?

RT: I became a doula after having firsthand experience with the support and encouragement they bring to the labor room. My oldest son was born C-section, and while looking for tips on achieving a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) success, I came across some information about doulas. Because doulas decrease the chances of interventions—including Pitocin, induction and epidurals—as well as increase the chances of a successful vaginal birth, and increase satisfaction with birth, my husband and I decided we needed to find one to accompany us on our VBAC journey. We had a doula at our first and second VBACs, and plan to have one again with any future babies.

Our doula provided amazing support and encouragement for both my husband and I during the birthing process and the postpartum weeks. After having that first awesome experience, I decided I wanted to be able to offer that same support and encouragement to other women in my community.

Q: How do you become a doula?

RT: The certifying agency that I am currently working with to complete my Doula certification is DONA International. Some of the requirements that are included for the certification: a certain number of hours in different labors, and then good recommendations from doctors, midwives, nurses and mothers. Certain books must be read, papers written, and courses taken on supporting women in labor, breastfeeding and beginning postpartum support. It can take up to two years or so to complete all the requirements needed.

Q: What types of things do you do in labor?

RT: Some ways I can support moms through labor and the early weeks:

  • Fear-release exercises
  • Help find information on various topics such as pregnancy, birth and motherhood
  • Provide basic massage during labor
  • Offer alternative remedies to medical interventions (at the patient’s request only)
  • Facilitate good communication between mom, dad and provider
  • Suggest ways to help labor progress
  • Get mom’s partner food and drinks
  • Breastfeeding support
  • Community resources

I offer suggestions to mom’s partner on ways to provide support. I’m not there to take away the partner’s job, but to simply add to the support.

Q: How does this all come together?

RT: A basic birth package includes:

  • Two prenatal visits where we discuss your birth plan, fears about labor and postpartum, positions you can use during labor and more. These visits are generally client-directed so that we can discuss what you want to.
  • I’ll be on call for your labor. I’ll come when you decide you need me until about two hours after the birth. In some circumstances of an extra-long labor, a backup may be called in so that you get the support you need the entire time. (If your doula can’t function 100 percent, then you won’t be getting the care you need).
  • One postpartum visit. This visit lasts two to three hours and is again directed by you. We can go over the birth timeline (most moms don’t remember all the timeline), offer breastfeeding support, light cleaning, run errands.

Moms who have had a doula—what did you think of the experience?

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