Dear Mr. Dad: Our baby is due in a few months and all of my wife’s friends are recommending that we hire a doula as a birth companion. What are doulas and what do they do? More important, will a doula try to take over? My baby is being born and I want to be there for the birth.
A: The word “doula” is derived from a Greek word that means “a woman caregiver of another woman.” Doulas generally go through an intensive training period in which they are taught how to give the laboring woman and her partner emotional and physical support throughout labor.
The idea is hardly new. For hundreds of years, pregnant women around the world have gone through labor with another woman at their side the whole time. This used to be the norm in the U.S. as well. But in the 1930s women began to have their children in hospitals instead of at home, and everyone but the laboring woman and her doctors was barred from the delivery room. In 1980, Dr. Marshall Klaus and his colleagues reintroduced the doula concept in the United States and gave it its name.
I must admit that when I started looking into doulas, my first reaction was similar to yours: “No way. I’ve got too much invested in this pregnancy, and nobody is going to come between me and my wife during this critical stage.” But after a conversation with Klaus and reading the research on doulas, I began to change my mind.
It turns out that the presence of a doula can have some rather dramatic effects, potentially shortening the length of a woman’s labor and reducing the odds she’ll need pain medication, forceps delivery or a cesarean section.
As to your perfectly reasonable question about being pushed out of the way, chances are, it won’t happen. In fact, she may even be able to help you be more involved. According to Klaus, “a doula can reach out to the man, decreasing his anxiety, giving him support and encouragement, and allowing him to interact with his partner in a more caring and nurturing fashion.” In one interesting study, a researcher compared couples who had a doula present with others who didn’t. Men in both groups spent about the same amount of time with their partners.
One of the main advantages of having a doula is that your partner will have more consistent support. Doctors and nurses are usually juggling five or six patients at the same time, meaning that they won’t be able to focus very much on your partner and you. So if you’re feeling that you really want someone (besides yourself) to be there throughout the whole ordeal, a doula may be the way to go.
Keep in mind, though, that doulas do not deliver babies. When it comes time to push, it’s nice if your partner can be guided by a nurse who’s had a chance to get to know her. That’s harder to accomplish when a doula is present.
The big problem with doulas is that they aren’t medical professionals, they’re generally not regulated, and they may not be particularly welcome in hospitals. Unfortunately, some doulas have an agenda and see their role as protecting mom and baby from what they believe are “unnecessary interventions.” Sometimes they take that agenda too far and start telling the medical team how to do its job. That’s clearly inappropriate, and for that reason, a number of OB/GYN practices and hospitals around the country have banned doulas from their delivery rooms. So if you’re still thinking about a doula, before you plunk down a deposit, check with your OB.
Read Armin Brott’s blog at www.DadSoup.com or follow him on Twitter, @mrdad.
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