• Emily Reul, PT, DPT

Doulas

Hello friends! Today we are going to talk about doulas what role they can play in the labor & delivery and postpartum periods.


Doula is a Greek word meaning a woman who serves. A doula is “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother before, during, and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.” (DONA)


Physical support may include things like positioning (for mother’s comfort and to get the baby out) or hand-on techniques to improve comfort and promote relaxation. Emotional support can come in many forms and an experienced doula can help you to understand the birth process. It is important to remember that while a doula can assist you in the decision-making process, they cannot make decisions for you.


Some hospitals offer doula services while some individuals hire a private doula for their birth experience (whether it be at home, in the hospital, or in a birth center.) With the current COVID19 situation, it’s important to check with your hospital or provider to see if a doula will be allowed to attend the birth. Many hospitals have visitor restrictions in place and may limit the number of visitors allowed during labor and delivery.


So what exactly can a doula offer? Well, research has shown that having a doula or support person during labor and delivery has had many positive effects. These include:

  • Shorter labor—by about 40 minutes on average

  • Less likely to need synthetic Pitocin to speed up labor

  • Less chance of needing a cesarean or instrument assisted (vacuum/forceps) delivery

Why is this important for the pelvic floor? Having a shorter birth, without instruments can reduce you chance of having pelvic floor dysfunction later! It can also reduce your risk of perineal tearing. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that having support like a doula is “one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes.”


It’s important to note, that while a doula can be present during the birth, they are not medical providers and cannot monitor things like the mother and babies health. The doula provides physical, mental, and emotional support to the mother (and partner), but does not have medical training to ensure a safe delivery. However, the doula can work alongside providers, like a obstetrician or a midwife, to ensure a smooth delivery process.


In addition to providing support during the labor and delivery of the baby (or babies!), doulas can provide support in the early postpartum period. Doulas can help with the new transition to parenthood—we all know this can be a scary time! They are often trained in lactation and can help with breastfeeding support. In the postpartum period, doulas continue to address both the mother’s and the baby’s needs—whatever they may be.


How do you find a doula? There are many different organizations that certify doulas and they will often have a directory on their website. One of these organizations is DONA International and you can find their website here.


Here is a great video about preparing your pelvic floor for labor and delivery.




Pregnant? Here are some great resources to help you understand your body and prep it for labor and delivery:

  • Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a pelvic therapist.

  • Find a pelvic therapist on your own at myPFM.com. We have links to 4 free searchable databases under Find a PT.

  • Learn more about the pelvic floor muscles with our book: My Pelvic Floor Muscles The Basics

  • Sign up for our email newsletter!

  • Visit our Instagram page for more on pelvic health.

  • Visit our Amazon Store for essential pregnancy and postpartum stuff


Have you used a doula’s services? What experiences or tips do you have that can help others? We’d love to hear them. Please join the conversation in the comments section below.  


Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT


References

1. Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Oct 17;10:CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub4. Update in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jul 15;7:CD003766. PMID: 23076901; PMCID: PMC4175537.

2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (College); Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Caughey AB, Cahill AG, Guise JM, Rouse DJ. Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Mar;210(3):179-93. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2014.01.026. PMID: 24565430.

3. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Benefits of a Doula. DONA International. https://www.dona.org/what-is-a-doula/benefits-of-a-doula/. Published December 10, 2018. Accessed December 17, 2020.

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This information is for awareness purposes and not individual medical advice. You should seek your own professional counsel for any medical condition or before starting or altering any exercise or fitness program.

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