What are the benefits of having a doula?
Numerous studies have documented the benefits of having a doula present during labor. A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, showed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was present. With the support of a doula, women were less likely to have pain-relief medications administered and less likely to have a cesarean birth. Women also reported having a more positive childbirth experience.
Other studies have shown that having a doula as a member of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40%, and requests for an epidural by 60%.
Doulas often use the power of touch and massage to reduce stress and anxiety during labor. According to physicians Marshal Klaus and John Kennell, massage helps stimulate the production of natural oxytocin. The pituitary gland secretes natural oxytocin to the bloodstream (causing uterine contractions) and to the brain (resulting in feelings of well-being and drowsiness, along with a higher pain threshold).
Historically it was thought that intravenous oxytocin does not cross from the bloodstream to the brain in substantial amounts and, therefore, does not provide the same psychological benefits as natural oxytocin. However, more recent studies indicate that oxytocin administered nasally and/or intravenously may cross from the bloodstream to the brain. Nonetheless, doulas can help mothers experience the benefits of oxytocin naturally without the use of medication.
What about the father’s role when using a doula?
The role of the doula is never to take the place of husbands or partners in labor but rather to compliment and enhance their experience. Today, more husbands play an active role in the birth process. However, some partners prefer to enjoy the delivery without having to stand in as the labor coach.
By having a doula as a part of the birth team, a father is free to do whatever he chooses. Doulas can encourage the father to use comfort techniques and can step in if he wants a break. Having a doula allows the father to support his partner emotionally during labor and birth and to also enjoy the experience without the added pressure of trying to remember everything he learned in childbirth class!
Are doulas only useful if planning an un-medicated birth?
The presence of a doula can be beneficial no matter what type of birth you are planning. Many women report needing fewer interventions when they have a doula. But be aware that the primary role of the doula is to help mothers have a safe and pleasant birth–not to help them choose the type of birth.
For women who have decided to have a medicated birth, the doula will provide emotional, informational, and physical support through labor and the administration of medications. Doulas work alongside medicated mothers to help them deal with potential side effects. Doulas may also help with other needs where medication may be inadequate because even with medication, there is likely to be some degree of discomfort.
For a mother facing a cesarean, a doula can be helpful by providing constant support and encouragement. Often a cesarean results from an unexpected situation leaving a mother feeling unprepared, disappointed, and lonely. A doula can be attentive to the mother at all times throughout the cesarean, letting her know what is going on throughout the procedure. This can free the partner to attend to the baby and accompany the newborn to the nursery if there are complications.