A midwife and a doula have two different jobs on your birth team, and one doesn’t replace the other. Both provide support and a relationship before, during, and after the birth of the baby, but they work together to make birth the best it can be. Doulas meet the family and talk about the birth plan prenatally, spend as much of labor with the family as they want, and provide home visits to help postpartum.
Midwives know that the doula can spend the earlier parts of labor with the family if they need someone with them, and she can rest and prepare for the latter parts when she’ll need to be at the top of her game. She can do occasional assessments of the baby and mother, but leave the doula to help with the comfort of the mother for the long haul. This lets the midwife continue with her prenatal appointments and other clients through the early (and sometimes many!) hours of labor.
When midwife and doula are in the birth room together they still have different jobs. The midwife will be primarily concerned with the baby and mother’s health. She’ll need to be charting blood pressure, temperature, contractions, baby’s heart rate, and other important health indicators that she really needs to be focusing on. Since a doula is not providing medical care, she will be free to continue to offer words of encouragement, physical relief, and making mom’s comfort her primary focus.
Studies show that having a doula lowers the chances of Cesarean, the need for pain medication, medication to speed labor, and instrument deliveries. Women have shorter labors, babies have higher APGAR scores, and mothers feel better about their birth experience afterwards. Who doesn’t want that?
Doulas will be with a mother throughout labor if needed. They are there to provide comfort and help to not only the mother, but the entire birth team. Making sure everyone is fed, hydrated, calm, and rested as much as possible is the doula’s job. She can provide massage, words of encouragement, and suggest positions and activities that can help with specific situations, since every labor is different. Since doulas are experienced with birth, they understand that it takes time and can point out signs of progress that may otherwise be missed, giving motivation along the way. They make sure the environment is one conducive to birth and answer those little concerns and questions that are so prevalent during the last weeks of pregnancy and first weeks of motherhood.
Fathers and other close family members are such an important part of the labor experience, and doulas in no way take their place. She serves as an example of how to act around a laboring woman in the different parts of labor and what kinds of things she might find comforting. If the family wants to be very involved, then a trained doula can show them several different comfort measures to keep mom relaxed during her contractions. After all, just the presence and touch of a loved one is extremely calming. The doula can then be a second set of hands and take care of periphery needs so that the family can stay together with as little interruption as possible. When dads need a break, the doula can quickly step in so that the mother is never left alone and the support is unbroken.
Birth is such an important time that every mother should be supported in every way possible. It is a natural and beautiful event, but can be made so much less stressful when professionals who are experienced with all aspects of it are part of your team. So if you’re wondering if you need a midwife or a doula, the answer is-BOTH!