What a Doula Does — Part 1: A Hand to Hold

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“Try walking the hallway,” the nurse told me, her only suggestion for speeding my slow labor.

Then she disappeared down some distant stretch of the corridor, and I walked alone, slowly up and down the hospital hallway. At midnight, the other maternity patients slumbered behind their closed doors. My daughter’s dad snored in the vinyl recliner after his long shift at the grocery store. The floor felt hard and cold through my foam rubber slippers. After a few faltering trips down the hallway, I retreated to my bed where I remained throughout the rest of my 38-hour labor.

I didn’t go to the hospital expecting the busy nurses to hold my hand throughout my entire labor. I didn’t know I had alternatives to the traditional maternity ward experience, and I didn’t know I could have had someone else there to walk the hall with me.

A doula is a professional labor assistant, serving a woman in labor by providing emotional support and coaching throughout the childbirth process. A doula holds a laboring mom’s hand, walks the halls with her at midnight, and generally supports a woman to deliver her baby in a safe and welcoming environment.

“It’s my job to give a mother information,” says Mandee, a doula who has assisted with over 100 births. “When you know the pros, cons, risks and benefits; you can decide what works for you.” With the right information, a new mom is able to make decisions for her birth and baby and feel in control of her childbirth experience.

Mandee’s connection with a client begins well before meeting in the delivery room. Mandee meets with moms early in their pregnancies to establish and build a trusting relationship. She gives her clients information resources about prenatal nutrition, supplements, exercise and medications; but she asks clients to do their own research and ask questions of their doctors. Mandee is available for moms to call, text or email throughout their pregnancies when they have questions or concerns.

A doula helps clients write a personal birthing plan to detail a mom’s expectations and preferences. She works to support and encourage a dad’s or partner’s role in the delivery room. She provides a listening ear for moms to calm their nerves and help them feel prepared for the often unpredictable process of delivery.

Mandee asks that her clients call as early as possible when they go into labor. She and the mom discuss when it’s time to meet at the hospital or other birthing environment. She will assist at any birth where a medical professional delivers the baby: in hospitals, home births, and birthing centers, but Mandee points out that a doula is not a midwife. A doula doesn’t perform medical procedures like medication administration or cervical checks.

Instead, Mandee focuses on helping the client mom feel more comfortable and relaxed during labor. She advises Mom about her medication options, food and drink possibilities, and positions to make labor easier. She gives massage and provides aromatherapy, flickering candlelight, music and essential oils to relax the atmosphere. She walks the halls with her client mom, assists her in squats and other exercises, helps her soak in a warm tub. When Mom feels more relaxed and comfortable, she will generally experience an easier labor and birth.

“The cervix is a muscle,” Mandee explains. “When we’re afraid or tense, labor will take longer. Women who deliver with doulas generally have labors at least three hours shorter than average.”

Once the baby is born, Mandee stays with her client for several hours. She will help Mom understand any repair procedures, coach Mom through holding the baby skin-on-skin, or help get breastfeeding started. Mandee assists moms with bathroom trips, showering, and getting comfortable to rest after delivery.

And Mandee’s connection with her client continues for up to two weeks after delivery. She is available to answer Mom’s questions and recommend resources to help with breastfeeding and settling into new family routines. Mandee’s support and encouragement help moms recover emotionally and physically, especially when Mom has experienced crises or complications during pregnancy and delivery.

“I am the mom’s support system,” Mandee explains. “It helps to have someone available that they feel comfortable with. I help her feel confident to make her own decisions, to choose her own steps or her own timing.”

newborn-1017390_1920Looking back, I know I would have appreciated having a support system to help me through those 38 hours and the weeks of adjustment later. If I’d had someone else to walk those hallways with me, my journey might not have seemed so long.

For more information on hiring a doula, check out American Pregnancy and Dona.org. And watch this site next week when Mandee explains how to choose the right doula to assist your labor and delivery.

How would a doula help with your pregnancy and delivery? What questions would you ask when connecting with a doula?

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