The term doula is Greek for slave or servant. Doulas provide emotional and physical support during pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum. They call themselves many things including: Childbirth Assistant, Labor Support Professional, Birth Assistant, Birth Companion, etc.
A doula does not speak for a couple, provide medical or clinical skills, or act in any unprofessional manner (Most organizations have Policies that each doula must follow.).
A doula provides:
explanations of medical procedures
advice during pregnancy
exercise and physical suggestions to make pregnancy more comfortable
help with preparation of a birth plan
massage and other non-pharmacological pain relief measures
positioning suggestions during labor and birth
helps support the partner so that they can love and encourage the laboring woman
avoid unnecessary interventions
help with breastfeeding preparation and beginnings,
written record of the birth
many other possibilities that vary from doula to doula
What does a doula cost?
This also varies from area to area and doula to doula. Some of this is based on the experience your doula has, some is based on the going rate in your area. The basic range would be from $300-$800.
According to Mothering the Mother, How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by Kennell, Klaus, and Kennell (1993), having a doula can give you a:
50% reduction in cesarean rates
25% shorter labor
60% reduction in epidural requests
40% reduction in oxytocin (pitocin) use
30% reduction in analgesia use
40% reduction in forceps delivery
Why Use a Doula?
In order to have a positive birth experience, most women need continuous labor support. Although Obstetrical Nurses are experienced in dealing with a laboring woman's emotional and physical needs, they can seldom guarantee the support they provide will last throughout the labor - especially in hospital settings where shift changes, coffee breaks, heavy paperwork and busy nights regularly occur. Some OB nurses handle more than one laboring couple at a time. Midwives may be able to offer more labor support, but they too have clinical duties to which they must attend.
The father or partner, may be better able to provide continuous support but has little actual experience in dealing with the forces of labor. Even fathers who have had intensive preparation are often surprised at the amount of work involved (more than enough for two people). Even more important, many fathers experience the birth as an emotional journey of their own and find it hard to be objective in such a situation.
Will the Doula replace the father?
Some fathers or partners are concerned they may be sidelined or replaced by the Doula during labor. Although individual situations vary, and one should question a prospective doula about her philosophy, generally the answer to this question is no - she will not replace him. Studies have shown that fathers usually participate more actively during labor in the presence of a Doula than without one. A responsible Doula supports and encourages the father and enhances his support style rather than replaces him.