The Purpose and Value of Labour Support
Pregnancy and birth are transformative; pregnant people and their families will experience big changes during this season in their lives. There are a lot of unknowns with birth and it’s not always possible to make a solid plan - babies usually run on their own schedule. Support is so incredibly valuable during this time and having a knowledgeable support person to help you and your partner navigate your birth can make all the difference. You may not have someone in your circle who can take that seat at your table, so who do you call? (Hint: It’s not The Ghostbusters). Luckily, there are people who specialize in this kind of support! A doula could be the kind of support that you didn’t know you needed.
Doula’s help families achieve a rewarding and positive birth experience through physical and emotional support measures. They do not speak to medical professionals on your behalf, diagnose medical conditions, offer medical advice or perform medical tasks (such as cervical exams and fetal checks). Your doula will help you identify your priorities and give you the tools you need to advocate for yourself to achieve the birth experience you want. Your doula will never tell you what you should or should not do, after-all they understand that this is your birth experience and what may work for some may not work for you. Their only role in your decision making is ensuring you have an opportunity to ask any questions you have, and that you know your options and have all of the information you need to make an informed decision. There is no agenda or ulterior motive for your doula and they are a valuable support regardless of pain medication preferences or use. Doula’s have plenty of comfort measures up their sleeves; heat and cold, massage, different positions, use of the bath or shower, walking or slow dancing, lighting and music, etc. All of these methods of support, combined with continuous emotional support and reassurance help to improve birth satisfaction.
Studies have shown that birth satisfaction is higher with families who had a doula; I personally don’t believe that the doula is the one who causes this, but rather the families who feel so supported and safe that they can be active participants in their birth experience and make informed decisions throughout their labour and birth. These studies also showed a decrease of epidural use, cesarean surgery, and the use of synthetic oxytocin to augment labour and an increase in maternal-infant bonding when a doula is present for the birth. Continuous emotional and physical support during labour can greatly increase their birth satisfaction and decrease their risk of unnecessary medical interventions. DONA International’s Position Paper: The Birth Doula’s Role in Maternity Care says: “The importance of fostering relationships between parents and infants cannot be overemphasized, since these early relationships largely determine the future of each family, and also of society as a whole.”. To me, this shows the importance of birth support. The focus shouldn’t be on the doula themselves, but it’s hard not to acknowledge the value of continuous support during labour.
Doulas aren’t just there to support the birthing person; they’re also there for the second support person (whether it’s the partner, friend or family member). This additional support helps to alleviate some pressure from the support person so that they can be as involved as they are comfortable being. This also allows for the support person to be able to use the washroom, eat, drink and rest while the birthing person is still supported continuously. It can be helpful to have a doula give reassurance that the birthing person is coping well during labour and that things are progressing normally since the sounds and sights of labour can sometimes be overwhelming to support people who aren’t accustomed to seeing their loved one in pain. The doula brings tips and tricks while the support person brings love and familiarity which provides a well rounded, supportive birth team in combination with the care provider. At the end of the day, your doula is there for you and your partner however you may need them to be (staying within their scope of practice and following their code of ethics of course).
In conclusion, doulas are an essential, unbiased, non-judgemental part of any birth team. They encourage you to gather all of the information you need, ask any questions you have and ensure you’re aware of your options during your labour and birth. Doulas also provide continuous emotional and physical support to you and your support team, promoting positive birth experiences and less unnecessary medical interventions. They never speak on your behalf or tell you what you should do, but they support you in making those decisions yourself. As Dr. John Kennell said, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”.