Vocabulary lesson: What is a doula?
Having a baby is one of the most exciting, scary, and vulnerable times in a mom’s life. You have never been more exposed or had so many questions flying around your brain. Births can be quick or slow, vaginal or surgical, calm and collected, or wild and crazy. Whether you’ve done it before or not, you can be sure that support is essential.
A doula is a labor support person. The term “doula” comes from the Greek for “woman’s servant.” Doulas come when called by the birthing person (or by the nurse upon the request of the birthing person) and remain until after baby is born. They provide continuous care for mom and anyone else mom decides to allow into her space. They provide a constant presence amid the staffing changes at the hospital, an encouraging voice, a reminder of your worth and agency.
The providers at Hennepin Healthcare, and the Birth Center in particular, are wonderful. The nurses are caring, the doctors and midwives are skilled, but they also have lots of responsibilities that keep them out of the patient rooms. Charting is necessary to maintain safety and a continuity of care, multiple patients need care simultaneously, and medical needs take precedence over emotional and informational care and constant presence. Each provider performs their role and brings the birthing person and their baby safely to the other side. It is an exciting time!
Doulas are not staff or medical providers, but they are essential. They empower moms to ask questions and assert your rights. They are a set of hands for that ache in your hips, a heating pad and a sip of juice, arms to hold your legs, validation for your feelings and experiences. They support your walk to the bathroom, they are someone to color with your niece, while your sister puts a cool cloth on your head. They remind your partner that a nap and a meal are as important for them as they are for you. They are ready with a hug and are a constant presence so that dad can follow baby to the NICU if needed.
Studies show that doula support is proven to make women more likely to:
- Have a spontaneous vaginal birth
- Reduce need for surgical and instrumental vaginal births (forceps or vacuum)
- Decrease the need for medications
- Shorten labor, and
- Improve baby’s 5-minute Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration (APGAR) scores.
Everyday Miracles reports that the rate of surgical births for clients is approximately 17% vs. the 2010 national rate of 32.8%.
Doulas do not take the place of partners or other people invited into the birthing space by the birthing parent, they simply provide an extra set of hands, and ears, and an extra heart. They help hold the space during this exciting and intense time.
Doulas can be hired by parents before birth where they meet with parents several times before birth, plan for the birth the parents desire, attend the birth and provide support, and visit in the postpartum period. At Hennepin Healthcare, we realize that not every mom has the knowledge, time, or resources to hire a doula prenatally. We also realize that the desire for extra support may not present itself until labor begins.
Hennepin Healthcare, therefore, partnered with Everyday Miracles, a non-profit based in northeast Minneapolis whose goal it is to improve birth outcomes and reduce health disparities. This partnership created an on-call program of trained, certified, state-registered doulas, who are available at no cost to the patient. This program began in September 2019 with one doula on call from 8 am – 8 pm, and another from 8 pm – 8 am. Everyday. 365 days a year. No patient is guaranteed a doula, but if one is available, the doula stays with her until birth or until the doula’s shift ends. If her shift ends before the birth, she can choose to stay or she can call in the next doula to take over. The mom is never left without doula support if she chooses it. Beginning in March 2020, the program will expand to two doulas per shift to provide more opportunities for patients who want extra support.
As a doula, I have worked with private clients and in the on-call program at the Birth Center. I love my job. There are differences in each situation and though meeting people in the throws of labor provides its own challenges, the connection established is real and fast. We may never meet again, but doulas love their clients, support them unconditionally, and celebrate their every success.
So what is a doula? A person who serves. With their whole heart.
About the author
Claudia Beck is a wife, mom, certified doula, and certified lactation educator. She has been with Everyday Miracles as a doula and educator since 2016, with an extended break for the birth of her third child. She has been serving the birthing parents at the Birth Center as a part of the on-call doula program since it began in September 2019. She carries a coloring book sheet in her doula bag given to her by the niece of one laboring woman as a reminder of all the ways in which she provides care.