Maybe you've seen a friend on Facebook gush about her wonderful doula. Or you've seen doulas mentioned in parenting magazines or blogs. Or maybe this is the first time you've encountered the term. I can honestly say I wish I'd had a doula when my daughter was born, if for no other reason than to give my husband a break from his tennis-ball-in-the-back duties (a little backlabor trick).
But back in 2006, I'd never heard of one. So, what does a doula do? I interviewed Wheeling mom, chef and doula Ami Dodd to find out more.
OV Parent: What is a doula?
Dodd: The word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves" and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or someone who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.
OV Parent: How did you become a doula? What do you have to do to stay licensed?
Dodd: I became a doula through DONA International (formerly Doulas of North America). Certification through DONA requires the completion of a two-year training program that includes training seminars, classes, extensive reading lists, position papers, hands-on training and attending births with other DONA-certified doulas. It aslo requires familiarity with and agreement to the DONA Standards of Practice, Code of Ethics and Codes of Conduct.
After the initial certification is completed, DONA requires a set number of continuing education hours annually and re-certification every three years.
OV Parent: How does a doula work with the other professionals and family helping during the birth?
Dodd: During the birth, the doula acts as a mediator between the mother and birth professionals. Doulas don't speak for a woman but serve as someone who reminds the birth team of the mother's wishes (usually laid out ahead of time in a written birth plan). A doula also helps to keep the mother informed and prepared for any medical interventions that might be needed. Doulas work with family members by helping them to be as involved as the birthing mother wants them to be. Doulas often give birth partners suggestions on how to offer physical or emotional support.
OV Parent: What do you like about it?
Dodd: It is such a privilege to help women welcome their babies into the world. No matter how many births I attend, I always feel overwhelmed and overjoyed the moment that mother holds her child for the first time and looks in his face with such amazement.
OV Parent: What is challenging?
Dodd: The biggest challenge I've faced as a doula is being on call. It's difficult as a mother of three young children to not know when I will have to run out the door, how long I might be gone or when I'll be back.
OV Parent: Why would you recommend a couple hire a doula?
Dodd: Regardless of what type of birth a family is planning, be it a hospital birth, a home birth or a planned C-section, women have complex needs during childbirth and the weeks that follow. In addition to medical care and the love and companionship provided by their partners, women need consistent, continuous reassurance, comfort, encouragement and respect. They need individualized care based on their circumstances and preferences.
OV Parent: Where can people go for more information?
Dodd: DONA International's website, www.dona.org.