To Doula or Not to Doula
Feb. 19, 2001 -- They don't call it 'labor' for nothing. Giving birth is hard work, and it pushes most women to the point of exhaustion. But there are ways to make the entire process more comfortable for mom and her partner and perhaps promote mother-infant interaction even months after delivery.
Surprisingly, most women in this country do not make use of a labor aide known as a doula. While the name may sound funny, the functions the doula can perform for a woman in labor are no laughing matter.
"A doula never does anything clinical, but what she does do is give a lot of physical and emotional support," explains Kristi Ridd-Young, who has worked as a doula for the past 16 years.
In most cases, the doula meets with the pregnant woman and her partner a few times before the birth.
"As soon as the woman goes into labor, the doula arrives at the birthplace and starts doing any kind of comfort measures that are appealing to the woman for her particular pain during labor," says Ridd-Young, the administrative director of Doulas of North America (DONA).
Comfort measures may include cold and hot packs applied to different parts of the body, massage, and acupressure techniques. One popular acupressure technique involves applying pressure to the leg below the kneecap to relieve pain from uterine contractions.
Although dads or other partners of the pregnant woman can provide comfort and reassurance, the doula's experience is her key advantage. For example, she can suggest frequent changes in position to allow labor to progress and reduce the pain of contractions.
"Doulas suggest a lot of movement during labor that a father might be frightened to suggest," Ridd-Young says.
Although the medical community hasn't exactly embraced the use of doulas, they are starting to see the potential of these so-called 'female supportive companions.'
"We were just astounded at how impressive the benefits were when a mother had a doula," says John H. Kennell, MD, who presented findings from a new study of doulas on Feb. 16 at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.