Anyone can offer continuous support to a woman in labor and childbirth, but seldom in the United States today is this available in the medical setting of a hospital. Nurses most often are attending to several patients at once and cannot devote continuous support to just one woman. Physicians are not present during labor other than occasional contact with the nursing staff or brief visits, until delivery, and then leave once the baby has been born and the mother is stitched up and settled. Even partners (husbands, family, etc.) may not be able to offer the support a woman needs. A birth doula is trained specifically in labor and birth, and specializes in offering continuous support.
According to the Cochrane Reviews, continuous support in labor and birth facilitates a better labor experience and more positive outcomes in childbirth.
"Continuous support in labour increased the chance of a spontaneous vaginal birth, had no identified adverse effects and women were more satisfied."
Original studies done on continuous support were done by having a woman simply sit in the room with the mother for the duration of the entire labor and birth. The woman did not speak or interact with the mother, but her simple constant presence in the room yielded significant results. If you are interested in reading more about these studies and about the role of doulas, please read The Doula Book by Penny Simkin (also listed on the right side of the page under Recommended Reading). It's a relatively short book and is full of important information.
Birth Doulas, of course, do much more than just sit silently in the room with a laboring woman. We are trained to provide non-medical, continous socio-emotional support through labor and birth. We come prepared with a vault of knowledge and expertise in the process of birth, as well as extensive understanding of possible complications, medical interventions, comfort measures, emotional needs and ways to address them, physiological needs and assistance, and more. We work with the mother, her partner, and the care provider and staff in helping to promote the best birth experience and positive outcome as possible.
I am eternally grateful to my doula and her irreplaceable help to me in my birth experiences. I'm so excited to offer this support to others, and most of all, to let every woman know that she can get the support she needs to have a positive birth experience!