I’ve written a lot about the measurable benefits of trained labor support for women and their families, which is important. However, I believe firmly that doulas have great potential to benefit care providers and staff as well. As one more important piece of the birthing puzzle, doulas can either add to or detract from the big picture of any birth they attend.
When a doula is at her best, when she understands her role and her scope of practice, she brings freedom, communication, and peace to the place of birth.
Part of my Scope of Practice as a CAPPA-certified Labor Doula reads as follows:
During labor and birth, the labor doula provides the mother and her partner with physical, emotional, and informational support. She facilitates and promotes self-advocacy, informed choice, and effective communication between the family and care providers. She seeks to foster a cooperative, respectful, and positive atmosphere with all members of the birth team so that the mother can birth with confidence. (emphasis mine)
What does “effective communication” look like at a birth?
It looks like a bridge. A sturdy, well-built bridge that begins with openness, humility, and an extended hand from the doula to the staff member or care provider that does not interrupt their conversation with the client.
It’s remembering that the client chose her care providers just as much as she chose her doula.* That fact alone should elicit basic human respect from the doula toward those caring for her client. Period. Regardless if that respect is returned or not. Doulas do no one any good unless we do our best to leave those chips on our shoulders at home. We do best when we take the high road, and treat everyone on the birth team with dignity and respect.
Side note: respect doesn’t mean agreement or likeability. It simply means getting along, and choosing to work together toward a common goal: The safety and health (physical, mental, and emotional) of both mother and baby.
When a doula sees herself as an integral part of the birth team, and understands that everyone else there has their place (as long as her client chose them), there are a lot of benefits she has to offer to the care provider and staff she is working with.
Among those benefits:
- Added perspective–Doulas can often get very creative when coming up with ways to help a labor progress effectively before medical interventions are truly needed. Care providers often appreciate suggestions that don’t interfere with safety, and that seem to help the mother.
- Someone labor-sitting–Care providers are rarely available to labor sit as long as a doula can. Even home birth midwives may not have as much opportunity to do so, and usually arrive later in labor than a doula would. This means that a doula can fill in the provider and staff on what has been going on, what tricks have been tried, and things that may be relevant to improving her client’s care. The doula can often provide clarification where the mother’s or partner’s recollection is fuzzy. This helps the care provider have a more accurate picture of how labor is going.
- Continuity of care for patient–This is one of the hardest things to provide as a care provider. Nurses, doctors, and hospital-based CNM’s change shifts–no matter what. Even home birth midwives may have to send a backup if two births are happening simultaneously. The doula provides one continuous thread of care, and we all know that this works out to better quality care in general. Also, can bond more quickly with the new people on shift, making her care easier for the staff and/or care provider, as they have to spend less time establishing trust.
- Bridge of communication with patient–Doulas teach their clients to ask good questions, relevant to their own care, and how to understand the answers they’re given. This helps the client to build trust in her chosen provider, which makes caring for her easier for the care provider. A doula’s presence should facilitate togetherness at a birth, not a sense of “us vs. them.”
- Extra set of hands–As much as care providers love to do hands-on care, many times they are simply not able to do so. Doctors, nurses, and even home birth midwives and their assistants, can easily get bogged down by charting, checking and setting up needed equipment, and (in hospitals) caring for other patients. This is as it should be, since the safety and health of the mother-baby dyad rests on their shoulders. Any non-clinical care they get to do is icing on the cake. Doulas have no such worries impeding their care. Non-clinical care is their only focus.Therefore, care providers are able to focus solely on their number one priority: the health and safety of mom and her baby.
I know that the above benefits are really more indirectly beneficial to the care provider. However, when there is benefit to the birthing woman, there is benefit to her care provider as well. The patient load of most OB’s is such that it can be extremely difficult for them to individualize care. After all, the care provider has as little time, per appointment, to get to know their patient as the patient has to get to know them.
Therefore, if there is any way for a doula to help build bridges, encourage their client to ask good questions, and utilize whatever time they have with their care provider, it enables and empowers the care provider to do what they want to do most: Provide evidence-based, individualized, humane care to their patients. This results in good feedback for them, and encourages them to be more open to the next client asking questions or wanting something different than the basic standard of care.
In short, the presence of a doula can mean heightened communication, empowerment, and a positive experience for everyone on the birth team, not just the mother.
*I understand that many women only have very limited, or no choice, when it comes to their care provider, due to geography, local/state laws, financial constraints, or other factors. Still – they ultimately still have chosen their care provider, rather than birthing unassisted at home. Therefore, they are placing some modicum of trust in that care provider. I appreciate feedback on this.*
Care providers: How often do you work with doulas? What do you appreciate most about good doulas? What tips might you offer to doulas who are still learning, or who need to understand your perspective better? What ideas do you have to foster better relationships between clinical and non-clinical professionals?
Thanks for reading!
Grace & Peace,