As any mother can attest, once her baby bump starts to show, all the attention is suddenly on the baby -- and less about her. If you're a first-time mom or a mom looking to have a different birth experience the second (or third) time around, doulas can be a great resource to rely on because they'll be all about you. Any pregnant woman can benefit from having a birth doula, but if you're wondering whether hiring one is the right decision, here are reasons you should.
If you want to give birth without using pain medication, a doula can be just what you need. Research shows that mothers are less likely to ask for meds when a doula is by their side. "A doula can help reduce a mother's stress and employ techniques that reduce her perception of pain," says Sunday Tortelli, president of DONA International and a birth doula in Cleveland. Doulas are trained to show the mother-to-be positions that might be more comfortable during labor and to use massage techniques that will help soothe her. Plus, doulas can offer psychological reassurance that can help keep moms calm and focused.
Going through labor and delivery for the first time can be exciting -- and downright terrifying. Not only are you dealing with what's likely unprecedented pain, but you're also venturing into uncharted waters. Your mind might be riddled with questions such as, "How much longer until I can start pushing?" "Why am I attached to all these gadgets?" and "They just put an oxygen mask over my mouth -- is everything okay with me and my baby?" Of course, you can ask your nurse and doctor these questions, but they may be attending to other patients and may not always be by your side. A birth doula is equally knowledgeable and with you every second during labor and delivery; she is a wealth of information, and she can make sure you get whatever you need (like ice chips or a foot rub!) Once the baby arrives, a new mom's questions and concerns usually quadruple. This is where a postpartum doula can step in and help the new mom care for her newborn and calm her nerves. ("No, there's no need to call 911. Your baby just has the hiccups!")
Of course, most women are overjoyed at the arrival of their new baby, but sometimes they feel disappointment if the birth process didn't go as planned. One study found that women who had continuous support during labor, particularly from a trained professional who isn't a friend or family member, were much more likely to be satisfied after labor and delivery. "Often, women have unrealistic expectations of what labor will be like, but it often goes much slower than they anticipate and involved more discomfort," says James Byrne, M.D., chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. "The more aware and educated a woman [is when she] goes into labor, the greater sense of peace she'll have with the natural process." If you look back at the birth of your first child and wish things had gone more according to plan, hiring a doula can help your next birth do just that.
Elizabeth Pondelik of Rocky River, Ohio, understands this all too well. "I sought out a doula for my second birth initially because I wanted to have vaginal birth after cesarean [VBAC], and I knew that, statistically, mothers have a higher VBAC success rate when they have doula support," Pondelik says. "My doula's training in nonmedicinal pain-management techniques and her ability to stay by my side during the entire labor gave me the support and confidence that I was missing during my first experience, and it made for a much more pleasant experience the second time around."
If you're a single mom who might not have much help from a partner, or even from family members, during labor, delivery, and the postpartum period, hiring a birth or postpartum doula (or both) can be particularly important. "When a person is facing something they are not comfortable with, like labor, having a guide to chaperone her through that process and cheering her on is highly valuable," Dr. Byrne says. "Labor and delivery can be extra challenging for women who don't have that support."
Your partner might be the most doting, attentive person on the planet, but during delivery and after the baby arrives, he or she might be just as scared, nervous, and overcome with emotion as you are. Similarly, your family members might have great intentions to help you, but they may not know the right things to do or say. This is where the doula steps in. "A doula serves as an educator, advocate, and cheerleader for the laboring mother, while keeping the family calm," says Latham Thomas, a maternity lifestyle expect and labor support doula in New York City and founder of Mama Glow (mamaglow.com). "She's like the binding agent that helps hold it all together!"
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