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Did you know studies have found that having a doula in the
delivery room cuts labor time by 25 percent and lowers your chance of having a
C-section by 50 percent? Those facts were all I needed to hear to be intrigued
by the option of having a doula (a trained labor coach) at my delivery.
I had also heard several women speak highly about their doula
experiences. In fact, some say they never could have had a natural childbirth without
one. Research shows that when a doula is involved, fewer laboring moms opt for
pain medication. Others were happy that their doula was able to confidently
keep them at home during the first stages of labor to avoid going to the
hospital too soon, which can result in unnecessary interventions.
Bottom line? “A doula will be there with you through every
contraction, comforting and supporting you, and performing moves that help
shorten labor,” says Laura Saba, owner of Momdoulary, the New
York City-based doula service that I chose. A doula will support you throughout
the entire labor, even before you head to the hospital. She’ll help you cope
with pain by offering new laboring positions, coaching you through breathing
techniques, offering massage or helping you take a shower or sit on a birthing ball.
Some doulas also offer prenatal labor and breast-feeding classes or postpartum
care and breast-feeding support. Your doctor or midwife, on the other hand, will
show up just in time to catch the baby and complete the actual delivery.
My midwife thinks it’s great that I have a doula, and most midwifes
would agree. But what do ob-gyns think of doulas? It really depends on the
physician, so if you’re considering hiring a doula, talk to your doctor first.
But Dr. Michele Hakakha, a board-certified ob-gyn in private practice in Beverly
Hills, Calif., says she personally not only appreciates having a doula present, but also encourages it, particularly for those attempting labor and
delivery without pain medication. “Having an experienced woman there to help coach,
massage and encourage one through the very tough and painful process of labor
is invaluable,” she says. “A doula can help a woman at home in the early stages
of labor prior to her arrival at a hospital or birthing center; she can act as
a liaison between the patient and hospital staff; and she can lessen a woman's
anxiety and fear just by being in the room.”
While I haven’t committed to a pain-relief-free, natural childbirth just yet
(I’m going to decide what’s best for me on the fly), I do know that since this
is my first baby I will feel more confident and comfortable going through
childbirth with someone by my side (for the duration) that has seen and
supported many labors before. And while all
doulas are different, “doulas can also help you navigate
the options available throughout childbirth, so that you can make the choices
that make the most sense for you, your circumstances and your birth,” says
Saba. “We help you know what questions to ask, and when.”
A doula won’t replace the support my husband is able to offer (you'd better believe he will be by my side, and he’ll be an important part of
the labor process), but he hasn’t been through childbirth before either. I love that the doula will be able to coach him on the best ways to help me through
So, how did I find my doula? I did a lot of researching and asked friends
and contacts for recommendations. You might find that your prenatal yoga
instructors are doulas or that your doctor or midwife has a few for you to
call. In the end, I stumbled upon mine through a Google search.
When choosing a doula, there are a lot of things you should look for. For
me, cost and chemistry were the top two factors that ruled out most of the
doulas I talked to before settling on “the one.” The price range for doulas
varies greatly (usually $500 on up) but in New York City you’ll be hard-pressed
to find one for less than $1,500 that has much experience under her belt.
I also didn’t want a doula who was totally against epidurals, because, like I
said, I haven’t decided yet if I want to do it "au naturel." Saba agrees that
looking for a doula with an open mind is important. "Too many doulas bring their
own agenda to birth—natural labor or nothing, and we’ve heard some horror
stories,” she says. “Every intervention has a time and place, and doulas [should] encourage moms to consider each one carefully, not just reject them in
the name of a natural birth.”
And ultimately, I had to find someone I could stand spending 12-plus hours
with in the delivery room. “You need to feel a connection with your doula,”
Saba says. “You will be counting on her to guide you through this unfamiliar
terrain so you need to feel confident in her competence and in her commitment