Doulas are women who are trained to provide continuous support throughout labor. They help mothers find the most comforting positions and movements, and use massage and other time-tested techniques to reduce tension. A doula who has been through many deliveries can often reassure a woman who may be feeling panicky or overwhelmed.
Doulas can be good for fathers, too. It’s the rare father who can soothe a laboring woman’s pain and anxiety as well as a trained doula, especially when the father is anxious himself. By taking over these tasks, the doula frees up the father to be with his partner in a loving way, rather than as a coach. Most fathers feel supported by the doula rather than replaced.
There have now been many good studies on the effects of doulas, and the results are powerful. Doulas have been shown to reduce the need for cesarean sections and epidural spinal anesthesia. (Epidural anesthesia, although often a godsend, does have some risks; for example, it increases the risk that the baby may run a fever, and therefore need to be given antibiotics after delivery.) For more information about doulas, see www.dona.org.
(Adapted from Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, 9th edition, By Benjamin Spock MD, updated and revised by Robert Needlman MD)