The Purpose and Value of Doula Support
This morning, I will be sending out my doula certification packet to DONA International. This moment has been a long time coming for me. (Long story short, I moved to a new state less than two weeks after I attended my third birth, and this was over a year ago. My own certification journey became a bit…delayed after the move.) As part of my certification packet, I needed to write a 500-1000 word essay describing the purpose and value of doula support. I am pretty pleased with my essay, and I’ve copied it here as a way to celebrate this moment. Enjoy! And wish me luck!
In recent years, people have become more familiar with the concept of a “doula.” They might know that doulas are women (and, though rarely, men) who offer continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to a laboring woman. They might even know of some doulas who practice in their area. What’s more, they might even have misconceptions about doulas: for instance, that doulas are only for women who want un-medicated births, or who want homebirths, or who are not planning a cesarean section. But beyond these basic understandings and/or misconceptions, what many people do not yet know are the benefits of doula support—the purpose and value of having continuous support during labor.
The benefits of doula support are well-documented. According to a Cochrane Review of the research on continuous support during labor,[i] doula support has been shown to increase a woman’s likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth (i.e. a birth without forceps or vacuum extraction or cesarean section). What’s more, women who have continuous support during labor—such as the support of a doula—are less likely to use pain medication, more likely to feel satisfied with their birth experience, and may have labors that are slightly shorter than the labors of those who do not receive continuous labor support.
But these measureable benefits do not exhaust all of the possible benefits that doula support can confer to a woman, her infant(s), and her family.
For it’s difficult to measure the exact amount of reassurance given to a woman when a doula holds her hand and reminds her that “she is doing it!” just as she doubts her ability to cope with the power of her labor.
It’s difficult to measure the joy of a father who tells his doula that “this was the first time that I didn’t feel like I was watching a medical event as my wife gave birth—this time, I felt like I was helping to bring our baby into the world.”
It’s difficult to measure the precise level of relief that the double-hip squeeze gives to a woman working through back labor or the specific level of empowerment that a woman feels when her doula has helped her to research her birth options or the particular type of love that a couple feels when their doula helps to maintain a compassionate and caring birthing atmosphere, no matter what unexpected situations arise.
But these benefits are real, intangible and resistant to measurement as they may be.
And so if I could teach people about the benefits of doula support, I would describe to them all of these benefits and more. I would let them know of the documented and well-researched benefits of continuous support during labor—the increased likelihood of spontaneous vaginal birth, the decreased likelihood of pain medication, and so on. But I would also give them at least a glimpse into those intangible benefits too—the ones that represent the love and kindness and humanity and joy that a doula can bring to a woman’s labor.
[i] Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub2