"Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go."
-Fred Rogers

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Purpose and the Value of Labor Support

In 2007 when I applied for my DONA doula certification I was required to write an essay about the Purpose and the Value of Labor Support. Today I was reading through some old files and I came across my essay. I was happy to see that I still agree with everything that I wrote. Enjoy!

The Purpose and the Value of Labor Support

I. The benefits of labor support to the mother and her family
Giving birth is a highly transformational and often empowering event in a woman’s life. Labor and birth deeply affect the entire family. This impact can either be negative and traumatizing or it can leave a family feeling elated and blissful. When a laboring mother and father feel supported and free of fear they are better able to let go and allow labor and birth to occur as naturally as possible. Labor doulas help partners support the laboring mom by offering encouragement, comfort measures, and sometimes simply the chance for the birth partner to step out for a walk or a bite to eat. In the end, having a labor doula present at a birth almost always results in a more peaceful, comfortable and calm birthing experience for mom, dad, baby, and the entire family.

II. The purpose behind providing labor support
Labor can be a tremendously trying time for a mom and her birth partner, especially if the parents are unaware of how the birthing process works and if they are left alone in a hospital room with little information or positive support. When a woman seeks a labor support person she recognizes, even if only subconsciously, that giving birth is a process that will test her physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Thus, she is seeking the support, guidance, and empathy of another woman, often one who has labored and birthed herself. The main purpose of providing labor support to a mom is because a woman is a whole person; she is not just a uterus and vagina “delivering” a baby. Doulas work hard to attend to every aspect of a laboring mom. While the highest priority is a physically healthy mom and baby, doulas are also a gentle reminder that the emotional, psychological and spiritual well being of mom, dad, baby, and the entire family are valuable and must be nurtured during the process of labor and birth.
It has been found that when women find and work with doulas they have shorter labors, a reduced need for pain medications, and a lower chance of having a C-Section (Klaus, Kennell and Klaus). Quite simply, the purpose of providing a trained labor support person to a mom is so she, her birth partner, and her baby can enjoy a shorter, easier and healthier birth.

III. The doula’s responsibilities
Doulas are not midwives, doctors or nurses. They do not have medical training, and thus, do not provide any medical services. This includes but is not limited to internal exams, blood pressure readings, or listening to the heart tones of a baby. Rather, a doula’s responsibility is to provide emotional, physical and informational support to a laboring mom and her birthing partner. While a doula does not have medical training she does (or at least should) have knowledge of the birthing process and interventions that may be suggested during labor and birth. If special circumstances or “bumps in the road” occur a doula can help a mom and her birthing partner formulate questions so that they will fully understand what is happening and so they can make truly informed decisions. It must be noted that while doulas do help parents advocate for themselves and their babies, they are not to make decisions for a laboring mom nor should a doula ever speak for the parents. At times a doula may have to act as a mediator or a facilitator of healthy dialogue between the parents and medical staff, but it is imperative that all decisions are made by the laboring mom and her partner. In the end a doula’s job is to respect the choices of her clients, even if they are not the same choices she would make for herself.

Klaus, M.H.; Kennell, J.H.; and Klaus, P.H. (2002). The Doula Book. Perseus Publishing: Cambridge, MA.