What are the benefits of having a doula?
Numerous studies have revealed the benefits of having a doula present during labor. A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, revealed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was present. When a doula was present, women were less likely to have pain relief medications administered, less likely to have a cesarean birth, and reported having a more positive childbirth experience
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Other studies have shown that having a doula as part of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and the request 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 which causes uterine contractions and also secretes it to the brain, which results in a feeling of well being, drowsiness and a raised pain threshold. Synthetic IV oxytocin cannot cross into the blood stream and brain, so it increases contractions without the positive psychological effects of natural oxytocin.
What about the father's role when using a doula?
The role of the doula is never to take the place of the husband or partner in labor, but to compliment and enhance their experience. Today, many husbands are taking a more active role in the birth process, but some partners feel that this is a huge expectation and would rather be able to enjoy the delivery without having to stand in as labor coach. With a doula as a part of the birth team, a father can do whatever he feels comfortable with at each moment. Doulas can encourage the father to use comfort measures and can step in when he needs a break. Having a doula allows the father to be able to support his partner emotionally during labor and birth and also enjoy it himself without the pressure 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 do report needing fewer interventions when they have a doula, but the role of the doula is to help you have a safe and pleasant birth, not to choose your type of birth. For women who know they want a medicated birth, the doula still provides emotional support, informational support and comfort measures to help the women through labor and the administration of medications. Doulas can work alongside medication by helping mom deal with possible side effects and filling in the gap that medication may not cover; rarely does medication take all discomfort away.
For a mother who faces a cesarean, a doula can be helpful by providing constant support and encouragement. Often a cesarean is an unexpected situation and moms are left feeling unprepared, disappointed and lonely. A doula can be with the mother at all times throughout a cesarean, explaining what is going on throughout the procedure while the partner is able to attend to the baby and accompany the newborn to the nursery if problems arise. Even with a scheduled c-section a doula can add comfort, reassurance and support to a family.