Having a baby? Then you’re familiar with the myriad emotions that come with expecting: excitement, anticipation, elation, anxiety— and the list continues. How can women alleviate stress during childbirth? By hiring a doula.

The word doula, of Greek origin, translates as “woman servant.” In ancient times, doulas were women’s closest companions, their confidants, who eased the challenges of their owners throughout the pregnancy process.

The acceptance of doulas in maternity care today is growing rapidly. Families are increasingly recognizing how doulas contribute to the physical and emotional well-being of mothers and infants. The modern application of doulas’ services to women helps new mothers to acquire the confidence and skills to face the many challenges of motherhood during pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care.

The concept of a doula falls within two categories of expertise: a labor support doula and a postpartum doula.

The Labor Doula

The labor doula limits her care to the mother experiencing the birth, whether the birth is natural or with any type of analgesic intervention. Statistics have shown that the presence of a labor doula in the birthing environment can actually reduce the chances of the birth necessitating a cesarean section.

The labor doula encourages the expecting mother to adhere to the suggestions imparted during childbirth class. Meanwhile, the doula bathes the mother’s head and body with a cool cloth. Along with giving a gentle touch, the doula offers advice that the mother might overlook, especially during the challenging moments of labor.

A professional doula is schooled in all aspects of childbirth education, including Lamaze, Bradley, hypnobirthing and birthing from within. Her specialized support is present for the entire duration of a woman’s labor; the doula never leaves the expecting mother’s side. As the doula’s attention to the expecting mother is consistent and ongoing, the doula is able to foresee to the mother’s every need.

Extensive training and skills allow the labor doula to keep the expecting mother comfortable for hours. The doula understands the different positions of childbirth, and why certain postures are most comforting and healthiest for mother and her unborn baby. Using an ergonomically appropriate ball, doulas ease women throughout contractions that are part of laboring stages. Doulas apply massage and reflexology techniques. And from training, doulas are aware of homeopathic applications of aromatherapy and essential oils. The doula is also knowledgeable in the art of acupressure and counter pressure— and she puts her knowledge to use in a continuous effort to make the mother that much more comfortable.

If desired, a labor doula encourages the father or partner and significant others to find some reprieve from the long hours that labor can present. In addition, the family member or friend who plans to be an integral part of the labor experience is assisted by the doula to be completely aware of how to tend to the mother’s needs. The doula instructs, in a non-intrusive manner, while always making the father feel needed. Caring for a mother and empowering her to experience a positive birth is truly a joint effort. The inclusion of other family members and close friends during the labor is also welcomed!

The Postpartum Doula

The postpartum doula is the source of professional support a woman receives in her home, as she faces the various responsibilities that concern the care of the entire family following the infant’s birth. Postpartum doulas can instruct mothers who have decided to breastfeed, but are uncertain how to nurture their babies.

The postpartum doula is often described as a grandmother— with the strength, kindness, skills and expertise that a wise woman can provide. These collective traits allow a doula to guide a mother into her role of parenting and caring for a newborn. New mothers face many new responsibilities, from the care of the circumcision and umbilical cord, to the sleep and bathing needs of an infant and the maintenance of a home where meals and chores are always in place. The postpartum doula makes sure Mom is well-rested, providing her with time to nap or just a quiet space to rest. The new mother thus feels pampered during her doula’s stay. This time of recovery also represents parents’ time to bond with their new loved one. Doulas tend to moms and their homes, enabling new mothers and fathers to spend all of their free time with their precious newborns.

Above all, both the labor and postpartum doulas do not have to be directed. They anticipate the needs of the mother for whom they work, be it in a hospital setting or at home following the birth. The doula does not need to be told; she knows instinctively what has to be done, and she does it well.

So, when someone asks, how you will remember the labor, delivery and early postpartum care of your newborn, hopefully you will be able to respond that the entire process was comfortable and successfully managed thanks to a doula.

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