It's pretty typical for pregnant women in 2017 to have heard of a doula, know someone that hired a doula for their birth, or receive a list of local doulas from their OB or midwife. It sounds wonderful to have someone by your side who is knowledgeable and supportive of your experience. Still, one of the most common questions asked during a doula consultation is "So what do you DO?"
The answer to that question is quite long and depends greatly on each mother's situation and individual needs. The best short answer is that a doula will be fully committed to you, your desires, and your comfort during labor and birth. Doulas provide support to women birthing at home, in birth centers, and in hospital settings. Birth center and home births are on the rise in the United States but still make up less than 2% of all births. Whether it is because of limited access to care, insurance regulations, financial issues, medical history, or personal preference, most women will be giving birth in a hospital. One of the most important tasks of the doula in that scenario becomes helping the woman feel at home.
Why is it important for a woman to feel at home during labor? Because her body will work much more efficiently to birth her baby and her experience will be more positive- both in the moment and as a memory. Consider these ideas to create the home like space that you need- even in the hospital.
Take a tour - See the place where you will give birth, familiarize yourself with parking and entry, take the hospital's breastfeeding or CPR class, and ask questions. Feeling confident that you know how to get there and have an idea of what to expect can bring peace of mind.
Know your options before you arrive in labor- Educate yourself about birth. Take the childbirth class offered at your hospital and consider an independent class too. Know your desires for birth and ask how they will be supported. Familiarize yourself with hospital policies and talk to your provider about what that means for your care. Talk to women who have delivered at the hospital about their experience.
Consider your birth team and visitors carefully- Who is surrounding you often defines how you feel about your experience. Partners, parents, friends, siblings, doctors, midwives, nurses, doulas...the birthing room can get crowded in a hurry. Make sure everyone who is present and caring for you is supportive of you and your labor. When in doubt? Kick them out. A couple of people who are dedicated to helping you through labor is usually enough. OBs, midwives, and nurses manage your medical needs but they'll often leave you and your team alone for long stretches. Take advantage of it. Your body will do its best work with no distractions present.
Set the environment- Soft lighting, music or white noise, and scent can all go a LONG way towards helping you relax enough to get your oxytocin flowing and labor going. Bring some of your favorite objects from home. Pillows, blankets, pictures, essential oils, your own clothes..whatever is most familiar and comforting for you.
Be present in the moment- When things aren't going exactly as you hoped it can be easy to lose focus and become vulnerable. Commit to doing what is best in each particular moment even if it's not your ideal. Got a nurse who is a little too chatty? Have your partner join you in the shower for quiet time. Brought your full array of essential oils for each stage of labor but now the smell is making you vomit? Turn them off and forget about it. Recognize that the experience matters more than the details and remain flexible about what you need.
Get a doula- She's familiar with both the hospital and with you. She knows your partner, your hopes for birth, and can act as a guide every step of the way. She'll provide physical comfort measures, information, and emotional support and will be fully dedicated to you and your birth.
Above all else, have confidence that with preparation and support you can have a safe and nurturing birth experience- wherever that may be.