Asking for a Friend: Doulas
What are they, and do I need one?
While there are many things we’d like to believe we’re experts in (wearing sneakers every day and choosing the best oil cleanser for your skin among them), there are other things we’ll happily admit we know next to nothing (or completely nothing) about. And when an email landed in our inbox a month or so back pronouncing the latest in “doula care,” we were ready to believe it on face value because, honestly, WTF is a doula? Okay, so we know doulas tend to be in the picture when you’re pregnant, and that there’s something vaguely, erm, wellness-y about them, but beyond that—forgive our ignorance—we knew zilch. So we started poking around (as we’re wont to do) and came back with two IRL doulas who agreed to school us in their methods. Paula Mallis, a doula and conscious conception coach, and Latham Thomas, a doula and founder of Mama Glow, know what they’re talking about. As it turns out, if you’re pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, a doula might be someone you’d like to look into getting on your side. Why? Because they smooth the way towards and during childbirth—and who doesn’t want that to be smooth?
“A doula essentially acts as your birthing advocate.”
What exactly does a doula do?
“Doula is an ancient Greek term that translates into ‘caregiver’ or ‘woman of service’ and has been used over the past several decades to describe a woman who provides various non-medical support measures during labor, such as massage, visualization and meditation,” explains Mallis. “A doula provides emotional support, education, inspiration and hands-on guidance for expectant mothers and couples,” says Thomas. “We hold your hand every step of the way. My client Rebecca Minkoff and her husband, Gavin Bellour, call me ‘a producer for your birth.’”
What is the difference between a doula, a midwife, and an obstetrician?
They each have very different roles in the birthing process. “A midwife is a health care provider that can deliver your baby at the hospital, birth center, or at home, and can be chosen in lieu of an OB if you are looking to have a more holistic approach to your birth,” says Thomas. “Midwives are not surgeons, so they will not surgically deliver a baby, that’s the job of an obstetrician. A doula is a labor coach and liaison between the midwife and the mother/couple or the doctor and the mother/couple. We are the wisdom and gatekeepers.”
What can a doula offer that a doctor, nurse, or midwife can’t?
A doula essentially acts as your birthing advocate. “As a pregnant mama prepares for birth, a doula provides her and [her] partner (if present) with the education and tools to self-advocate in a medical setting and/or at home, which allows them to ensure that their choices are honored, creating a safe and comfortable birth environment,” says Mallis. Beyond that, they are intricately involved. “My clients are like family. I talk and text with them frequently,” explains Thomas. “We build a trust with the women we serve and they become vulnerable with us. It’s a trust that is built upon frequent and consistent affirmative interaction. We work to help our mamas feel confident in spirit and in their bodies. We want them to feel capable and claim their maternal power. And that feeling is something we offer because we are sensitive to the unique emotional needs of women in this process. We also have tried and true techniques that we use to help achieve results, whether that’s nipple stimulation to increase the intensity of contractions, or the use of herbs to help move the labor along, or just laying next to her and stroking her hair and breathing and offering gentle encouragement.”
“Anyone can be a doula if you are committed to the service of women and babies and protecting the sacred primal template at work: the birth process.”
What do doulas do for mothers and families before and after the birth of a child?
As it turns out, just about everything. “A doula prepares the mother and family for the birthing process and supports them with all the outer and inner resources they may need,” says Mallis. “Doulas visit families at home a few times prior to birth to establish the birth preferences or birth plan, comfort measures and support techniques,” expands Thomas. “We provide lots of referrals for acupuncture and massage. We really act as a counselor and support and when the baby is born, we watch for how the mother adjusts. I try to work with couples to get organized and get the right systems and support in place for them to thrive once the baby arrives. I even babysit so the new parents can go out on their first date after birth.”
How do you find the right doula for you?
Ask around. “There is a doula for everyone out there,” says Thomas. “There is a person who gels with your personality and can anticipate your needs and make you feel completely supported. The best way is to ask around and get recommendations from trusted sources. I get all of my clients through referrals. There are two types of doulas, a birth doula and a postpartum doula. Postpartum doulas offer support to mothers once baby arrives. It’s like having your own nanny…but just for you!”
What training do you need to become a doula?
Ready for a career change? “Anyone can be a doula if you are committed to the service of women and babies and protecting the sacred primal template at work: the birth process,” says Thomas. “If you are patient and can witness women in their power and guide them without judgment into motherhood with a grounding and supportive presence, then you could be a doula. There are various doula trainings and certifying bodies including DONA International. The trainings are usually anywhere from a week to eight months. Most are like yoga teacher trainings, where the modules are doable, you can be in a full-time job and easily be able to work the training into your life.”