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Birth Doula

Tips for becoming or hiring a doula

The word doula comes from the Ancient Greek for female slave. Today, however, it refers to anyone (though generally a female) who offers non-medical support to women during the birthing process and/or immediately after birth.

A birth doula, also called a labor companion, provides physical and emotional support during labor and delivery. She does not, however, perform any medical duties such as monitoring the fetus, checking the birth canal, or administering drugs. Rather, she coaches the woman through breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and body positions or simple movements to relieve pain, promote relaxation, and facilitate birth.

A postpartum or postnatal doula assists the new mother and her family immediately following and for up to 6 weeks after the birth, or even beyond if necessary. This support includes infant care techniques, parenting and coping advice, breastfeeding (or bottle-feeding) support, education, and general encouragement.

The birth doula and postpartum doula may be the same person, or they may be different. Similarly, women may choose to have a doula for both birth and postpartum support, or only for one or the other.

Becoming a Doula

While many women may perform a doula's functions (non-medical support and companionship) for friends or relatives without any training or experience, professional doulas -- those who are paid for their services -- have generally received doula certification. Some of the training and certifying agencies for doulas are Doulas of North America (DONA), the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), and the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA).

If you'd like to become a doula, research your certification options and consider how much time and money you can afford or are willing to spend on training. Requirements for certification vary according to agency.

Hiring a Doula

If you'd like to hire a doula to assist you with birth and/or during the postpartum phase, look, above all, for someone with whom you feel comfortable. Trust is an essential component of this relationship. Also ensure that your doula knows and fully supports your birth plan.

If you're not sure where to find a doula, contact your local hospital or birthing center, or ask your doctor or midwife. They will likely have a list of certified doulas in your area.

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