According to Doulas of North America (DONA), a birth doula offers:
Ideas for physical comfort such as comforting touch/massage, counter pressure, breathing techniques, movements, and position changes to facilitate descent.
Emotional support in the form of reassurance, focusing, supportive listening, and encouragement.
Partner support by allowing them to take a break, relieving the pressure of being the sole source support, reassurance of the normalcy of the laboring woman's sounds and behaviors, and assisting in preparing questions for care providers.
Providing evidence-based resources to enable clients to ask appropriate questions and gather information to make the best decisions for themselves and their babies.
There can be advantages to postponing an epidural until active labor is well established. The doula's physical comfort measures can be very helpful while waiting for active labor to arrive. Once the epidural is in place, the doula can suggest position changes to keep the pelvis open and allow for descent of the baby. The informational and emotional support continues as well.
Labor and delivery nurses ARE a terrific support to a laboring woman. But they are often assigned to more than one family - if the L & D unit is extra busy they may not have a lot of time to offer you. Also, shifts change and you will need to adjust to a different person and personality, perhaps at a challenging point in labor. Your doula, on the other hand, is a constant presence - you will never be alone!
Finding out that you will need to give birth via C-section can be challenging - but your doula can continue to support you in many ways. Information about the process itself as well as the recovery will reassure you and assist in developing questions for your care provider. On the day of delivery, a doula can be present to offer ideas to help you relax and a listening ear for any worries or emotions you may be experiencing. Few facilities allow more than one person in the operating room; but your doula will be there as you recover to offer ice chips, a cool cloth, and reassurance to your partner. The doula's knowledge of breastfeeding after a surgical birth can also be invaluable.
Family members love you and your new baby very much. They can be a great resource if they assist with household tasks, meal prep, etc. and let you take care of and get to know your baby. The challenge may come when well-meaning grandparents or siblings question your infant care choices. The early postpartum days are a vulnerable time and statements like "I always fed my babies on a schedule and you all turned out all right!" or "You're not feeding him again, are you?" can shake your confidence. Your doula will take care of your home and food needs and offer evidence-based and most importantly, non-judgmental information and support. She can also share this new information with your family to reassure them that although things have changed, you are giving your baby the best of care.
Your feeding choices are just that - your choices, made in collaboration with your baby's medical care provider. Doulas are as well versed in appropriate bottle-feeding practices as they are in breast-feeding. The doula can help with cleaning the bottles, formula preparation and storage, and feeding techniques that allow for comfortable milk transfer and bonding.
You have probably heard about studies that showed some reduction in use of pain medications, lower rates of surgical births, shorter labors, and more positive feelings about the birth for women who have had a doula present. While this is encouraging, the fact is that the presence of a doula - and her skills - does not guarantee you a particular outcome for your birth. Many variables such as hospital policies, caregiver protocols, unforeseen medical issues with yourself or the baby, and other circumstances can impact how your delivery unfolds. These things are not within your doula's control. Your doula can help you to advocate for the information you need to make good decisions, keep you calm during an intense situation, and help you and your partner to feel supported and cared for.