A doula, or a professional labor assistant, provides physical and emotional support to a woman and her partner during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.
For instance, a doula might offer:
- Suggestions on pain relief techniques, such as breathing, labor positioning and massage
- Emotional reassurance, comfort and encouragement
- Information about what's happening during labor and the postpartum period
- Assistance with breast-feeding
- Guidance and support for loved ones
Often, however, a doula's most important role is to provide continuous support during labor and delivery. Although research is limited, some studies have shown that continuous support from doulas during childbirth might be associated with:
- A decreased use of pain relief medication during labor
- A decreased incidence of C-sections and forceps deliveries
- A less difficult childbirth experience
Keep in mind that while a doula might add another opinion to the mix when decisions need to be made about labor and delivery — a doula doesn't provide medical advice as a midwife or health care provider would do or replace the role of your health care team. Also, most insurance plans don't cover doula fees.
If you're interested in hiring a doula, ask your health care provider, childbirth instructor, family or friends for recommendations. You might also contact your local hospital or health department for a referral.
When interviewing a potential doula, ask about his or her training, how many births he or she has attended, his or her philosophy about childbirth, what services he or she provides and the cost. Also, discuss your preferences and concerns about pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Once you hire a doula, typically you'll meet with him or her during your third trimester to plan for childbirth.