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What Is a Doula?

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A doula is a person who provides emotional and physical support to you during your pregnancy and childbirth. Doulas are not medical professionals. They don't deliver babies or provide medical care. A certified doula has taken a training program and passed an exam in how to help pregnant women and their families during this exciting but challenging experience.

What Does a Doula Do?

Doulas can perform different roles, depending on your needs.

  • Labor or birth doulas provide continuous care during labor.
  • Antepartum doulas support women who are put on bed rest to prevent preterm labor. They help with household tasks and childcare.
  • Postpartum doulas support the new mom during the first few weeks after birth. They help with care and feeding of the baby and household tasks.

How Your Doula Will Work With You

Before childbirth, a birth doula will typically:

  • Meet with you during your second or third trimester to get acquainted
  • Teach you relaxation and breathing skills
  • Answer your questions about the birthing process
  • Help you understand labor and delivery procedures and possible complications
  • Help you develop a birth plan

During labor, the doula will:

  • Stay with you constantly to provide comfort and support
  • Use massage and touch to help you relax and rest
  • Help you get into comfortable positions
  • Help you get adequate nutrition and fluids
  • Help communicate your preferences to the medical staff
  • Involve and reassure the dad-to-be

After delivery, a doula can:

  • Provide support and encouragement to both you and dad after bringing your baby home
  • Teach both of you how to care for your new baby
  • Assist with breastfeeding education
  • Support dad and other siblings and teach them how to help you
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest, eat regularly, stay hydrated, and are comfortable

How Your Doula Works With Your Delivery Team

As needed during your labor and delivery, she will help you communicate with the medical team. A doula doesn't replace nursing or other medical staff. She doesn't examine you, take measurements, or do other clinical tasks.

Why You Might Want to Choose a Doula

A doula can help you and the dad-to-be have a positive and safe birth experience:

  • During labor, a doula can take over coaching now and then to give the dad a break.
  • When desired, a doula can completely free the dad-to-be from coaching tasks -- and from having to remember the instructions from your childbirth classes. He can enjoy the process and focus on supporting you emotionally.
  • Studies show that women who use a doula have shorter labors, are less likely to need a C-section, request less pain medication, and have a more positive childbirth experience.
  • Moms who used doulas after birth may have more success with breastfeeding.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on July 31, 2014

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