A doula is usually defined as a woman who provides physical, emotional and informational support to a woman before, during and after childbirth. But did you know that a doula’s role may go well beyond this definition, or in some cases, her role may not involve labor at all? Just like other professions, doulas often have one or more “specialties.” These are a few of the various hats that a doula may wear:
This is the traditional doula role and the one that most associate with the name. The birth doula usually meets with a mother or couple several times before labor to become familiar with one another and learn about the mother’s preferences and goals for her birth. She is on call for the birth and joins the mother during labor at the mother’s request. Some birth doulas work through a hospital system, and in this case the mother may not meet her doula until she is in labor. Either way, the doula stays with the mother and provides constant encouragement and support until the baby has been born and everyone is comfortable and resting. A doula will usually stay in close contact in the days after the birth to check up on everyone, and go to at least one home visit in the week or two after birth.
A postpartum doula provides support and help to the mother and family in the first few weeks after a new baby’s birth. Sometimes, a labor and postpartum doula may be the same woman, or these may be two different people. A postpartum doula is on call as the baby’s arrival gets closer, so that she is ready to step in and help as soon as the baby is born. Her role may include breastfeeding support, emotional support, or physical support such as meal preparation, laundry, child care for older children, running errands or housekeeping.
An antepartum doula serves a mother who is experiencing a high-risk or difficult pregnancy. She provides emotional and physical support with the goal of lowering levels of stress and anxiety, and helping the mother be as comfortable as possible during her pregnancy. The doula also assists with preparing the mother for her birth experience and can provide valuable information when important decisions or issues arise. Some antepartum doulas may also transition to serve as a birth doula when labor begins.
A sibling doula is on call as labor approaches to provide child care to the new baby’s older sibling(s). However, in addition to her skills in child care, the sibling doula is usually also an experienced childbirth professional and helps the child understand labor and birth in an age-appropriate manner, and prepares them for baby’s arrival. A sibling doula will usually have several meetings with the mother and her child(ren) prior to labor so that they can become familiar and comfortable with each other and to discuss the plans for labor and birth. The doula is then on call to come at any time of day or night and stays with older siblings until several hours after birth. She handles all the necessary transportation, feeding and care while parents are busy with labor and birth. She may also be available to bring older children to the hospital, if the parents desire.
A bereavement doula provides support to mothers who have experienced or anticipate a loss, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, or a terminal diagnosis during pregnancy. A bereavement doula provides encouragement and physical, emotional and informational support as a mentor and friend through the journey of loss. This support may be provided during pregnancy, birth, and after the loss.
Geriatric Doula (and Beyond)
More recently, the value of a professional supporter and encourager has caught on in areas beyond pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. Some women have taken steps to become a doula for older people who are experiencing health crises, or have little time left on earth. This doula may spend many hours providing company, conversation, comfort and encouragement to the person in their last days or hours. Everyone has a time in life when an “on call encourager” with experience, information and special professional training on how to help would be a tremendous help.
The value of doula care is becoming more and more recognized and appreciated. In what other areas in life can you see doula services coming about?
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