Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Purpose & Value of Labour Support

When one chooses to work in the labour support field, she chooses to try to make a permanent, positive difference in the lives of childbearing families. The influence she may have can be far reaching, touching the mother as she experiences labour and birth, and forms her personal feelings about how this will mold her self confidence now and in the future, as well as that of the partner as he takes on the role of father. Labour support, or doula support, is available so families can increase their chances of having an empowered birth experience as the doula works within her parameters of offering physical, emotional and informational support.

There are many proven benefits for parents who choose to use doula support. Mothers report, among many other things, a greater satisfaction in their childbirth experience. They feel they have more of a voice in their care as they make informed choices from a variety of options or alternatives available to them during childbirth. This is in part because the doula has the time and training to provide clarifying information to the woman regarding what her options exactly are in different situations. Further more, she can explain what consequences may arise, positively or otherwise, from the variety of each choice. Another benefit for women using doula support is that mothers can often avoid or delay the usage of pain medications, as they have a variety of other comfort measures which often work very effectively, easily available to them through the experience of their doula. This generally results in a more alert baby, a better breastfeeding start, and a deep sense of accomplishment for the mother. A doula doesn't typically work in shifts, which provides another boon for the childbearing family, as she can provide constant companionship while she remains with the family throughout the labour and birth, and even into the immediate postpartum. Having this constant support can play a big role in making the woman feel comfortable in her surroundings, especially in a hospital setting where medical staff usually have many other responsibilities which require them to leave the couple. Fathers report a relief of the burden of having to 'know it all' so they can adequately support their partners. When a doula joins their team, dad can use her as an ongoing resource for ideas on how best to provide comfort for his partner, and to get clarity and reassurance on questions that might arise during the process of birth. Couples choosing a doula that fits well into their support team philosophy may only stand to improve their childbirth experience.

The main purpose behind providing labour support is to help the family feel empowered about their childbirth experience. Because all families have different wishes and desires regarding what is important to experience during the childbirth process, a doula can help hear what their priorities are, and try to set the stage early for those desires to be brought to pass. Birth, however, doesn't always go as planned, so the doula can also try to help couples who face situations they had hoped to avoid, to see what is still in their control in their given situation and what is not, to give them time to let go of their original birth plans and grief whatever wishes my be lost, then to embrace where this new path is taking them, and to make new choices in their new circumstances. Women giving birth, no matter how close or far from their original birth wishes, will report a higher degree of satisfaction if they've been able to get clarity on what choices they have along their birth journey, and then respected enough to have their choices heard. Doulas can provide that opportunity for women to feel that support and empowerment.

The doula has three main responsibilities as she works to support the labouring family. One of her roles is to provide emotional support. By trying to interpret the language of labour for them, by sharing reassurance of what normal birth looks and sounds like, and by letting the couple know that they are not alone in their experience, can all help to reduce and sometime even eliminate the feelings of fear and anxiety that can occur in labour. This will result in a more effective labour pattern, as fear can often times slow a labour down while making it feel much more painful. Another of the doula's role is to provide physical comfort. Through training and experience, a doula will be able to see and hear the sensations of the labouring mother and either know what ideas or positions to suggest to help create more comfort, or by giving mom the encouragement necessary to try to follow her own instincts to see what her body is asking her to do. The third responsibility of the doula is to provide informational support. When she provides any information surrounding the childbirth experience, it must always be factually based without any personal opinions. This helps the family see clearly what is the best option for them in their particularly unique situation. All other tasks that a doula can and does perform for labouring couples, will usually fall under one of those three categories.

Doula work is a service meant to be provided by those women who are truly committed to supporting empowered childbirth, with all its many faces. Couples wanting an opportunity to better enjoy their childbirth experience would likely benefit from the multifaceted support of a doula. Through the various roles a doula plays, she can help facilitate a type of birth satisfaction necessary for both the mother and the father to be able to look back on the birth of their child favourably, even if it wasn't the birth experience the couple had initially intended to have. The effects of having that empowered experience will quietly ripple it's effects into many aspects of the new family's life, creating a wake of improved self esteem for all involved.

-Heather McCue, for her DONA certification essay

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