What is a Birth Doula?
As defined in the DONA International Birth Doula workshop manual, a birth doula:
-recognizes birth as a key life experience that the mother will remember all her life
-understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor
-assists the woman and her partner in preparing for and carrying out their plans for the birth
-stays by the side of the laboring woman throughout her entire labor
-provides emotional support, physical comfort measures, an objective viewpoint, and assistance to the woman in getting the information she needs to make good decisions
-facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner, and the clinical care providers
-perceives her role as one who nurtures and protects the woman's memory of her birth experience
But what exactly does all of this mean? Well, let's start with a little bit about me personally.
My name is Kristina Rigsby. I am a trained birth doula through DONA International and have a passion for assisting mothers in the labor, delivery, and birth of their child. I've wanted to be a birth doula ever since I was 15 years old. I know what you're thinking. "What in the world does a 15 year old know about being a doula?" However, I was blessed to know someone who worked as a birth doula and educated me on the occupation at a young age. Ever since then, I knew this was where I'm meant to be.
Women, in general, are some of the most amazing human beings on the planet. Seriously, do you realize how amazing our bodies are? Not only do we endure weeks or longer of bleeding, pain, and discomfort on a monthly basis, but our bodies have the ability to physically adapt and change to grow a child for roughly 10 months and then give birth. Then eventually, return to its *relatively* same state as before. How fantastic is that?
Pregnancy in and of itself is amazing because a woman's body is constantly going through changes. Hormones are adapting her body to house a fetus until the time for delivery. It definitely isn't always an easy time, which is where a birth doula comes in.
Prenatal Stage: During the prenatal stage, a birth doula typically schedules a visit with his/her clients to discuss a birth plan. A birth plan outlines exactly what the mother wishes to have/not have during labor and delivery. This includes where the birth is taking place, if the mother plans to have an epidural, who is going to be at the birth, and much more. My main focus when working with my clients is to find out their desired comfort measures; this includes whether or not they would like to wear their own clothes instead of a hospital gown (if birth is taking place in a hospital), if they prefer to labor on a birthing ball, a tub/shower, or some other type of equipment, e.t.c. Once all of this has been established, the doula will have the client sign some confidentiality forms and establish forms of communication. The doula will also help the mother/partner decide when he/she will arrive to provide support.
Labor/Delivery/Birth Stage: No matter if the woman is giving birth in a hospital, birthing center, or home, a doula will be present during the entirety of the labor process (if the mother so chooses). The doula's main goal during this stage is to make sure the laboring woman is as comfortable as possible and that their birth plan is communicated to the staff helping deliver the baby. However, the laboring woman is also made aware that labor is very unexpected, meaning anything can happen and she is able to change her mind at any time. Since a doula is not a licensed medical professional, he/she cannot give medical advice or distribute any sort of medication. Some of the measures a doula does provide is working with the laboring woman through breathing exercises, changes in positions, hot/cold compresses, acupressure, aromatherapy, massages, rebozo exercises, and more. While these measures are great, another huge service a doula provides is emotional support. A doula is consistently encouraging the laboring woman and never leaving her side.
Postpartum Stage: There are trained postpartum doulas who specialize in the care of a woman after she gives birth. Since I am a trained birth doula, I am not specialized in this area. However, as a birth doula, it is still my goal to support the mother and her family after delivery. After the baby is born, birth doulas can schedule a postpartum visit to check in with the mother and see how she is doing. This also gives the doula an opportunity to evaluate with the mother and her family to see how they believe the labor and delivery went so that they know a new goal for their next birth (if that is their choosing). At this time, a birth doula can also refer their client to a trained postpartum doula.
*Each birth doula provides different things to their clients. However, the above is how I provide to my clients.*
So, what does a birth doula do? With my clients, my goal is to provide a mother with a detailed birth plan and do my very best to make sure that it is followed and that she is comfortable, suported, and empowered during her labor and delivery at all times.
Thank you for reading and happy birthing!