Contributor, doula and Philly mom Heidi Lengel from Fulheart Family Support gives us the lowdown on the importance of doula support for women and their partners.
Here’s the most common reaction I get from someone who has never heard of a Doula: “A Do-What?”
Birth culture in the United States is rapidly shifting, in many ways, back to its ‘roots’. Back in the day, a doula was another woman (mother, sister, friend, etc.) who stayed with the birthing woman to help support her birth journey. The word doula comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period (Source: DONA International). There are now many organizations that train and certify birth and postpartum doulas. Here are some of the most valuable ways a Doula can support you and your growing family:
A doula can help you understand and prepare for birth. A doula can help you understand the wide spectrum of birth philosophies and choices. Your birth philosophy will impact the choices you make prior to, during, and after your child’s birth. A doula should help you be an informed Momma-to-be, bond with your partner as you prepare for birth, and form positive relationships with your care providers. She can also help you understand labor stages as well as teach you positions for comfort and optimal fetal positioning prior to and during birth.
A doula provides continuous support for you and your partner throughout the birth process. Any first-time Mom might assume that their care providers will be at their beck and call throughout the labor and birth process. This is simply not the case. Even the most attentive care provider (in a hospital or birth center) will have other birthing women to take care of. A doula provides continuous, non-medical support for you and your partner from the beginning of labor until the baby is safely in your arms! This can provide essential relief to your partner and care team throughout your birthing time (think about it- your partner will need a break to eat, sleep, update friends & family, or use the bathroom!).
A doula can increase the odds of a medically stable birthing experience. A recent study (Continuous Support for Women during Childbirth) showed the following medical benefits experience by women with continuous labor and birth support:
- More likely to have shorter labors and give birth naturally without the aid of vacuum or forceps
- Less likely to need a Caesarean section
- Less likely to request pain medications and more likely to experience feelings of satisfaction with their birth experience
- Their babies are more likely to thrive and less likely to have low 5-minute Apgar Scores
A doula can encourage immediate bonding and breastfeeding. In the hustle and bustle of birth, sometimes Moms need help orienting themselves to their new babies. Doulas can help manage logistics in the first moments after birth by keeping the golden hour (the first hour after birth) as uninterrupted as possible. This helps your baby orient to life outside of the womb, become ready to establish a breastfeeding relationship, and rest when it needs to.
Doula support can lessen the likelihood of postpartum mood disorders. Did you know that women who feel supported by family, friends, and healthcare professionals are less likely to develop postpartum mood disorders than those who feel isolated and alone (Read more about postpartum mood disorders here)? While a birth doula may offer one postpartum visit to help you acclimate to life with baby, postpartum doulas are also a great asset in the first few weeks/months after baby is born. Postpartum doulas can provide breastfeeding assistance, help around the home, prepare meals, and care for your baby when you need to rest. Philly has many wonderful agencies that provide postpartum doula services including Main Line Doulas, My Fabulous Mama, Baby Steps, and more.
How can I find a Doula?
Lucky for you, Philly and Brooklyn have thriving birth support communities! You can ask a few friends if they’ve heard of a reputable Doula, or simply do a search on Doula Match, a wonderful resource for finding local doula services. Interview at least 2-3 doulas to make sure you find someone you are completely comfortable with and who will support your birth choices 100%.
Heidi Lengel, MMT, MT-BC, Certified Doula, received a Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy from Temple University in 2004 and a Master of Music Therapy from Temple University in 2012. She specializes in the areas of pre and perinatal pregnancy & birth support, pregnancy loss, and maternal mood disorders. Heidi is board-certified through the Board Certification for Music Therapists (CBMT) and is a member of The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) as well as the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPAH).
Her areas of research interest include medical music therapy program development and best practice recommendations in pre and perinatal music therapy. She has presented her research and clinical work at regional, national, and international conferences.
Heidi is dually certified as a birth and bereavement doula (StillBirthday). She is also Vice President of The Philadelphia Maternity Network, a member of PALS (Philadelphia Alliance for Labor Support), a childbirth educator, and a passionate maternal mental health advocate. Heidi uses all of her knowledge, training, and skills to support women and families traveling through any pregnancy, expecting any pregnancy outcome.