A labor doula is a non-medical professional who provides continuous labor support. Typically, when you hire a doula you will meet with her twice prenatally to get to know her and for her to learn your preferences. She will be on call for you during your labor, and will come when you need her. Usually a postpartum follow-up appointment is included as well. Because obstetricians and nurse-midwives do not typically provide continuous labor support, it is important to have a doula there for you during this time. What a doula will do during labor varies widely and is dependent upon what you need at the time.
One study found that having a doula reduces a mother’s risk of cesarean section by 50%, shortened labor by 25%, and reduced requests for epidurals by 60%. There was also a 40% reduction in the use of Pitocin (a synthetic hormone used to speed labor) and a 40% reduction in the use of forceps. Maternal (and paternal!) satisfaction is also higher when a doula is involved in the labor.
There are also antepartum doulas, who assist mothers during late pregnancy, and postpartum doulas, who help ease the transition into motherhood by offering help during the first few weeks postpartum, when many families can use help with household tasks and newborn care.
To find a doula, visit www.babystepsonline.net, www.gabirthnetwork.com, www.dona.org, or www.cappa.net.