8 Truths Doulas Know About Childbirth

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Doulas can sound like mythical maternity fairies who are there to use their healing powers for whatever the pregnant person needs to make labor and delivery easier. Some people say doulas are "like travel guides in a foreign land," but that's actually only half of it.
Doulas provide non-medical labor and birth support, and they can also spend time helping people before and after they give birth, says Grace Nowakoski, a certified doula and owner of HELD Doula Services. It's not medically necessary to have a doula present when you give birth — and choosing to have or not have one is a totally personal decision — but doulas can provide a lot of comfort and knowledge to the experience of giving birth that you won't always find at the hospital or within your own circle of family and friends.
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"Doulas have the gift of focusing on all the emotional stuff and the journey in a grander sense," says Mariel Lugosch-Ecker, a certified doula for Open Hands Doula Care. "We get to become versed in the dynamics of pregnancy and birth and postpartum, and the emotional journey of pregnancy and birth."
Your Ob/Gyn and medical providers have a limited amount of time with you before you give birth, and even with the most emotionally aware doctor, you might not have the same connection with them that you do with your doula. Doulas generally help you create a birth plan that works for you, and allow you to drive the conversations. "With doula prenatal visits, it's really about whatever you want to talk about," Nowakoski says. You can tell your doula about a weird birth thing that you heard happen to someone or a thing that stressed you out about work. Of course, you could learn about birth from a class, books, or the internet, but it can be nice to talk to someone who's going to be there with you when it's your turn, she says.
Doulas end up getting to know you intimately, and that's sort of the point. "There's a baseline of trust and familiarity, which is really helpful when you're going through birth, which is so different from most things we do in our lives, physically and emotionally," Nowakoski says. And while they aren't there to catch and deliver your baby alone, they do know a ton about birth. Here are some insights about childbirth that only a doula could tell you.
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There are no textbook births in real life.

A lot of doula-mother conversations have to do with what the standard parts of labor look and feel like, but every labor is completely different, Nowakoski says. "Birth is incredibly unpredictable," she says. "I remind my clients that while we talk about the 'typical' or 'normal' things that could happen, we call it a 'textbook birth,' and that's the only place it happens generally [in a textbook]."
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There can be too many cooks in the kitchen.

There are usually lots of people around (doctors, nurses, midwives, family) during a hospital birth, which can be ideal for some people, but also overwhelming, Nowakoski says. "Your doula can be a cushion for you from the interactions with everyone else that will be there," she says. Plus, there's always a chance that you won't have the same doctor who you've been seeing for your prenatal appointments, so if you have a doula, you can count on at least one familiar face to be there.
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Postpartum rest is important.

Many new moms forget to figure out a way that they can rest after they've given birth, Nowakoski says. "When you're pregnant and expecting a baby, it can be hard to think past the moment when your baby is born, because birth itself is such a huge unknown," Nowakoski says. The hormones of pregnancy can also make a pregnant person laser-focused on the baby, she says. If you have the resources to set up someone, like your own mom or a friend, to come and check in on you and just talk to you or let you take a nap, it can make a huge difference.

"It's valuable for the person who has given birth to have a chance to really rest and do very little other than rest — and get to know their baby," she says. Some people need to (and/or would like to) go right back to work, and that's just what their life looks like. "Most people need at least a week of solid rest after they give birth in order to let their hearts, bodies, and minds process," she says. "It’s helpful not to try to jump back into your old routines too quickly, and it’s wise for new parents to have lots of support during this time. ”
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It'll never be exactly like your first time.

If you go on to have more than one baby, the tough thing about having a great first delivery experience is that your next ones might not fit your ideal as closely, Nowakoski says. "It can be disappointing for some people who have very straightforward 'textbook' births, and then the subsequent birth looks completely different," she says. No two people are going to have the same exact birth experiences, and the same can be said for someone having multiple pregnancies, she says. "A lot of moms are surprised when they realize there are so many options at birth, and there's never one way," Lugosch-Ecker says.
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Organization helps.

Doulas can help you wrap your head around logistics, too, Nowakoski says. "I like to help people think about who their resources are, and write down ahead of time the names and phone numbers of people they're going to call on for support," she says. Ask your friends and family if it would be okay to call them when you're in a bind before you actually have your baby. "Having those things in place gives you such better chances of having an easy transition," she says.
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The whole family may need support.

A lot of people are on the fence about having a doula, because they imagine that their partner should be the only other person there for support, Nowakoski says. But many partners have never even seen a birth before, so they don't totally know how to be helpful besides to just be there. "Doulas don't only support the birthing person; we really support the partner in being able to give everything that they are able to in order to support the birthing person," she says.

For example, your doula could be the one who grabs juice for everyone so your partner can hang and really be there for the birthing person. "There's rarely a time when a doula is superfluous," Nowakoski says. "And if I am, that's wonderful, because it means this couple was ready to do this and has resources they need to feel supported."

Lugosch-Ecker says her favorite memory is of a 3-year-old watching her mom give birth at home. "The mom was making noise and was really in it, and the girl got scared and asked what the noises were," she says. "I remember kneeling down and saying, That's your mama making magic, and I was like, that's the truest thing I've ever said about this."
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Birth is extremely physical.

Giving birth is unlike anything your body will ever do, Nawakowski says. "Most people are wondering how much it's going to hurt, if they can do it, and how they're going to cope," she says. Doulas never give medical advice about how to deliver a baby, but they might offer suggestions for positions that may be more conducive for birth, Lugosch-Ecker says. "I think my background as a dancer is helpful for learning about positioning and movement, and if a mom is interested she can choose to do that," she says. Doulas can also provide massage and acupressure while you're giving birth, which is a nice perk, she says.
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The internet is overwhelming.

A doula can be like a sieve for all the information you get from the internet or your friends about pregnancy and birth, Lugosch-Ecker says. "Birth is a whole big picture that's more than vital signs; it's an emotional journey," she says. "There's so much information out there with the internet, it's hard to know what feels safe and right." Even though they're not a medical professional, it can be helpful to get your doula's third-party, unbiased opinion on some of your concerns about birth, she says.