But doulas aren't there only for moms-to-be. They also play a key role in helping their partners, offering them invaluable emotional and practical support during the overwhelming experience of childbirth. "I see myself as having many roles, fitting in where I am needed, lifting up and supporting the partner in order for them to support the laboring mom," says Zoe Etkin, a birth and postpartum doula and women's sexual health coach in Los Angeles. "Looking back on the birth, I hope they will both remember how connected they were, and I will just fade into the background. Although I believe my role is important, it's ultimately about the birthing couple."
Even so, it's common for dads-to-be to worry that having a doula during delivery might push them out of the main labor support role. Doulas insist that couldn't be further from the truth. "I'm there to accentuate their involvement, not to take their place," explains Gena Kirby, a doula of 10 years, childbirth educator, and host of Progressive Parenting radio. "Partners have taught me so much over the years about different ways to approach different personalities and births."
Here are four important ways doulas can help make your baby's birth a beautiful, memorable experience for you and your partner.
Doulas offer continuous support, starting from when you call them as you're going into labor to a few hours after your baby is born. Unlike nurses, doctors, and midwives, who change shifts, a doula will stay with you whether your labor is four hours or 44 hours.
Knowing someone else is there for the long haul can be reassuring to an already-stressed-out partner. "The best thing about having a doula was that we had someone in the room who was both on our side and had a lot of experience," says Jason Harken of Dublin, California. "As a new father, I lacked the experience...our doula was great at providing the support we needed. We received so much education from her. During the actual birth, I was worried about everything that could go wrong, but hiring a doula allowed me to instead focus on the exciting experience of supporting my wife in the natural birth she wanted."
You can count on a doula to back you and your choices, whether that means a water birth at home or a planned C-section in the hospital. You can also rest assured that the doula will support your partner. "Some families want their doula to be more hands-on, as it is the client's direction that determines what type of support is given. It's not about what the doula wants. I'm very focused on helping the partner shine and fostering the connection between partner and mom," Etkin says. Your doula will talk with you during prenatal meetings to get an idea of what kind of role you and your partner would like her to play.
Practically speaking, there are lots of benefits to having a doula with you through the entire delivery experience. All-day care means your partner can rest, relax, or take a break if needed. Plus, a doula can pitch in when it comes to necessities like fetching water or meals, taking photos, and updating your families and friends. In a nutshell, these trained professionals can free up your partner so he or she can fully concentrate on supporting you.
That was the experience Holly Pugh of Concord, California, had when her partner gave birth. The couple's doula "transformed the barren, cold hospital room into a (battery-powered) candlelit, warm, inviting space," Pugh says. "She remembered to get the camera out and started snapping photos instantly. She was the only one who remembered to do it!"
Most partners are experiencing childbirth for the first or second time, but a doula has attended a number of births and has a wealth of experience to draw from. Don't underestimate how helpful this can be. A doula will remind a concerned parent-to-be that your moaning is, in fact, normal, or that pushing can take a few hours for a first-time mother. She will help talk you and your partner through decisions that may need to be made during labor. Plus, a doula can offer various ways to comfort you, including changes in position, massage, and relaxation techniques. Doulas and dads work together to support the mom—the doula bringing her knowledge of birth, and the partner bringing his love for the laboring mother.
"Our doula comforted my partner and calmly worked with her toward the type of birth she wanted," Pugh says. "Never pushing, always listening. She was so knowledgeable and always told us we had a choice when faced with a decision during labor and birth. A great doula lessens the intensity, calms the fear, and allows for the miraculous experience of birth to happen."