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The Purpose and Value of Labor Support
By Heather Eckstein
A doula is a person who provides physical, emotional, and informational support to a woman in labor and her partner. A doula acts as an advocate for the mother and helps the mother communicate most effectively with her caregiver. Because a doula is not a medical care provider, she does not perform any clinical tasks and is able to devote all of her attention to the mother. This allows the doula to give the mother constant support throughout her labor and birth.
The purpose of having a doula present during childbirth is so that the mother and her partner can have the birth that they desire. Having the constant support of a doula allows the partner to become as involved in the birth process as they would like to be. Doulas can help the partner by suggesting ways that the partner can support and encourage the mother. By using different comfort measures the doula can help the mother feel more comfortable and relaxed as she labors. The doula can suggest position changes and other techniques that can lead to shorter labors or more effective pushing. Ultimately, this can help reduce the number of interventions in the birth and improve outcomes for both mother and baby.
The doulaâ€s primary responsibility is to her clients. This means providing information to the mother and her partner in the prenatal period and encouraging her to discuss concerns with her care provider. This also means explaining procedures to the mother so that she is fully aware of what to expect during her birth. A doula can provide emotional support to the mother and also help the partner to be most effective in their support as well. This continues from the pregnancy, throughout the labor and birth, and into the postpartum period. The doula can offer resources and information for the client and her partner to assist her with any concerns that she may have as a new mother.
Studies have shown that doulas can have a very positive impact on a motherâ€s birth experience. A doulaâ€s presence decreases the need for epidurals and other pain medications, as well as the need for forceps delivery. Having a doula at their birth also means that mothers will have less need for the use of oxytocin and most importantly, less chance of having a cesarean delivery. The doulaâ€s presence has been shown to result in shorter labors with fewer complications. Other benefits for both mother and baby include increased bonding time with the baby after birth, a better chance of breastfeeding success, and lower rates of post partum depression. Giving birth is one of the single most important and memorable days in a womanâ€s life and a doula can help the mother have the best experience possible.
Although a doula cannot offer advice, she can help the mother to communicate more effectively with her care provider. The doula can also give the mother information that can assist her in making decisions about her care. The doula can, and should, encourage the mother to ask questions and express her preferences and concerns. Childbirth can be an intimidating experience when the mother is unsure of what to expect. One of the roles of the doula is reassuring the mother that birth is a natural, wonderful process. By helping the mother address her inhibitions about childbirth, the doula can help her feel more confident and secure in her decisions. Birth can be a very empowering experience and a doula is the person who can provide the resources and support for the mother to have that wonderful experience.
Even mothers who do not desire a natural birth can benefit from the presence of a doula. Because a doulaâ€s support is not limited to the birth itself, she can be an invaluable resource for the client and her partner under any circumstances. Even cesarean births can be a more positive experience when a doula is present to help inform and offer assistance during the recovery. Breastfeeding can be more challenging after a surgical birth and the doula can help the new mother get off to a good start by demonstrating different nursing positions or helping the mother locate a lactation consultant. Any situation encountered during labor and birth can benefit from the presence of a labor support professional.
Every mother who desires a doula should have one present at her birth. In addition to the many medical benefits for the mother and baby, the doulaâ€s presence simply helps the mother have the best birth experience. By providing encouragement, nurturing, and support the doula helps meet the various needs of a new mother. The continuing reassurance of a doula during the prenatal and post partum period can help ease the transition into motherhood. The doula can truly help make every experience a birth to remember.
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