As of late, more and more women are inquiring about the use of doulas during pregnancy and the crucial time following birth. However, despite their popularity many individuals do not understand what a doula is and their purpose during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
The word doula is Greek in origin and stands for “female servant”. The American Pregnancy Association explains a doula as, “ A professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical and informational support to the mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. The doula’s purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience.” Having a doula present during childbirth is extremely beneficial because the demands on labor and delivery nurses are so great that they often “spend less than 10% of their time providing supportive services.” Furthermore, having a doula present at birth provides significant positive perinatal effects such as, “reductions in cesarean deliveries by 50%, use of forceps by 40%, requests for epidural analgesia by 60%, and a 25% decrease in labor length.” Doula-supported mothers also rate childbirth as less difficult and painful than women who are not supported by a doula. The presence of a doula at birth not only benefits the mother, but also the father. The doula supports the father, showing him how he can be helpful and consequently can relieve some of the anxiety he might be experiencing.Following birth, a doula will provide continuous help and support to the new mother for a couple of weeks. Doulas provide new mothers with important information about feeding and caring for the baby as well as physical support by cleaning, cooking meals and “filling in when a new mother needs a break.” Additionally, they provide emotional support by encouraging a mother during those times when she might be feeling overwhelmed. Studies have shown that during the early postpartum period doulas reduce anxiety scores for new mothers, increase positive feelings about their birth experience, and increase rates of breastfeeding initiation. The later postpartum benefits include decreased symptoms of depression, improved self-esteem, exclusive breastfeeding, and increased sensitivity of the mother to her child's needs.
Ultimately, choosing to use the services provided by a doula is completely dependent on your needs. Do feel you will need support during the prenatal period, during birth, the postpartum period or during all of the previously mentioned? Using a doula to support you through pregnancy and the time thereafter is normal; women have been serving other women in childbirth for many centuries.
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