Your Partner, Mother, Best Friend, is NOT Your Doula

I’ve heard this from pregnant mommas several times now –“Oh, my husband is going to be my doula.”  I think there must be some confusion.   Doulas are not partners.  Partners are not doulas. 

There is a clear role that doulas fill that is not the same as the partner, or mother, or best friend.  A doula can only be a doula.  The confusion is not anyone’s fault.  The doula role is confusing.  Doulas are a relatively new thing in our society.  Our mothers didn’t have doulas, but you know what?  Our grandmothers might have.  The role of the doula several generations back was more cultural than professional.  Women would support women while giving birth.  It’s that simple.  Sisters, friends, mothers would gather around to protect and support a birthing mother.  And that’s probably part of where the confusion lays.  However, that is very different from the current, professional doula in today’s society. 

 So what does a doula do that’s different from my friend, partner, or mom? 

Nowadays, doulas fill in for the great gap in maternity care in our health system.  Doulas provide the bridge of support that is currently broken in our society.   If you haven’t heard, The United States has pretty terrible outcomes for mothers. 

The US has the worst maternity mortality rate.

1/3 of all births are c-sections

 Half of all births are scheduled  

25-34% of women say their birth was traumatic

So technology has advanced, but outcomes for women and babies have gotten worse.  This is a major problem.   Cue the doula. 

The concept of a doula being the continuous labor support person was created when Dr Marshall Klaus and John Kennell conducted research on the birth outcomes for mother and baby when a support person was present.  They found that outcomes were greatly improved if a woman had doula support. 

If a Doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.
— Dr. John Kendell

Doulas are one of the few evidenced-based options for labor.  A recent large study found women who have doula labor support are more likely to have a vaginal birth with less interventions and better outcomes for both mother and baby.  Doulas provide the much need emotional, physical, and mental support that a nurse, doctor, and even partner, best friend, and relative cannot provide.  Doulas are highly knowledgeable about the physiological birth process, hospital practices, medical interventions, evidenced-based practices, positions, comfort measures, techniques, and the emotional journey that occurs when a woman becomes a mother.  

 Doulas free up the partner to be the partner (relative to be the relative, best friend the best friend) without the pressure of being a birth expert and advocate AND the partner.  

The role of the doula cannot take the place of any other person in a birthing women’s life.  A birth team may do similar things or have overlapping tasks, but each person has their own place.  Partners do not count as the continuous support person.  Partners are super important to supporting a birthing woman, but they do not influence the outcomes in the same way a doula does. 

As a birth doula, I’ve seen these outcomes in my own work.  I’ve attended surprisingly few c-sections and inductions compared to the national average.  My clients are well educated on making wise choices for a better birth experience without as many interventions.  The number one most important choice that affects the outcome of the birth is the place of birth and the care provider.  Doula magic can only go so far when a birthing woman is faced with birthing at a hospital that has a 40, 50, and even a 60 percent c-section rate.  It all comes down to making informed choices to empower yourself for a better birth experience. 

If you are pregnant, do yourself a favor and find an experienced doula to support your birth.  And please, for the love of birth, choose a woman-centered care provider with a low c-section rate.  In these times, the evidenced is clear, no woman should  birth without a doula.