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A doula (doo’-luh) is a Greek word referring to an experienced woman who helps other women. Doulas nurture to the needs of mothers and provide a support system during pregnancy, childbirth and for a time after the birth. The assistance of a doula throughout labor has been shown to improve both the physical and the psychological well-being of the mother.
There are two types of doulas: birth doulas and postpartum doulas. A birth doula is a woman trained and experienced in childbirth, who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a woman during labor, birth and the immediate postpartum period. A postpartum doula assists the new family, offering advice regarding the care of the newborn, household help, and emotional support. They also provide referrals to community resources as needed. The “fourth trimester”, or the period following the birth, is often the most challenging and overlooked phase in the transition to parenthood. The postpartum doula helps by educating, nurturing, and empowering the mother and family on their road to building confidence in this new role.
When compared to women who did not receive continuous support, those who received continuous support were:
- less likely to have an epidural or other “regional” analgesia
- less likely to use any type of pain medication (including narcotics)
- less likely to give birth by cesarean section
- less likely to give birth with vacuum extraction or forceps
- less likely to be dissatisfied with or give a negative rating to their childbirth experience (Hodnett and colleagues 2004).
What factors most contribute to women’s satisfaction in childbirth?
In considering whether to make arrangements for labor support, it may be helpful to consider results of research about satisfaction in childbirth. A systematic review of the best available research (Hodnett 2002) finds that the following four factors make the greatest contribution to women’s satisfaction in childbirth:
* having good support from caregivers
* having a high-quality relationship with caregivers
* being involved in decision-making about care
* having better-than-expected experiences, or having high expectations.
Arranging for labor support may make a big difference in your satisfaction!