Doula is a word of Greek origin meaning "woman who serves." These days, though, doulas are professionals, usually women, who provide emotional, physical and informational support to a woman and her family during the antenatal, birthing and postpartum periods. The three most common types of doulas are labor doulas, postpartum doulas, and antepartum doulas.
A labor doula attends a birthing mother and her family before, during, and just after the birth of the baby. By serving as an advocate, labor coach, and informational resource, a labor doula helps ensure a safe and satisfying birth experience. She often provides reassurance and experienced perspective, helps with relaxation techniques including massage and positioning, and makes suggestions to progress labor. Studies have found that the presence of a doula at birth results in shorter labor with fewer complications, reduces negative feelings about one's childbirth experience, reduces the need for intervention (including pitocin, forceps, vacuum extraction, and cesareans), and reduces the mother's request for pain medication and epidural. Before labor begins, a labor doula will familiarize herself with a pregnant mother's birth plan, which will include preferences regarding management options and the use of pain medication, and will assist in establishing breastfeeding after the birth of the baby.
A postpartum doula assists the new mother and baby, as well as the rest of the family, within the first few weeks after the birth. Postpartum doulas are especially knowledgeable about newborn care and breastfeeding. Providing patient and non-judgmental support, postpartum doulas offer a family breastfeeding tips, baby care and advice (on topics such as bathing, circumcision, vaccinations), emotional support and reassurance, light household help, sibling care, meal preparation, and errand running. As the role of a postpartum doula is strictly non-medical, she does not provide any clinical care.
An antepartum doula has specific and extensive training that relates to assisting pregnant women who are classified as high risk, pregnant women who may be on bedrest, or pregnant women with medical conditions necessitating additional help. Antepartum doulas provide assistance, education and physical support for a pregnant mother, sibling care, errand running, meal preparation, home care, and emotional support.
Doulas do not offer medical advice and do not perform clinical tasks (such as checking fetal heart rate, taking the mother's blood pressure, performing vaginal exams, or delivering a baby--although many are trained for such in case of emergency situations). Doulas do, however, have professional training and/or experience from the organizations that they train through and/or the births and clients they attend. Doulas are employed by pregnant and postpartum women and their families to provide physical comfort, emotional support, and to advocate. They provide their clients with unbiased information necessary to make informed, educated decisions.
If you are considering employing a birth, postpartum, or antepartum doula, it is important to get to know her first, check references, ask about her attendance and experience, and if she has birthed and breastfed a child.
Books on Natural Childbirth
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, PT, CD
The Birth Book by William Sears, MD, and Martha Sears, RN IBCLC
Active Birth by Janet Balaskas
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCuthcheon
Easing Labor Pain by Adrienne Lieberman
Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier & Healthier Birth by John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus, Marshall H. Klaus
Books on Having a Vaginal Birth after Cesarean
Natural Birth After Cesarean: A Practical Guide by Johanne C. Walters & Karis Crawford
Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention & VBAC by Nancy Wainer Cohen & Lois Estner
Books on High-Risk Pregnancy Care
The Pregnancy Bed Rest Book by Amy E. Tracy
When Pregnancy Isn't Perfect by Laurie A. Rich
Intensive Caring by Dianne Hales & Timothy R. B. Johnson
Books on Postpartum Care
Rebounding From Childbirth: Towards Emotional Recovery by Lynn Madsen
Mothering the New Mother: Women's Feelings and Needs After Childbirth by Sally Placksin
The Year After Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger