A doula is a labor support person who works with the mother and her partner during pregnancy all the way through labor and birth with the goal of ensuring the mother has the most desirable birth experience possible. This is achieved by providing physical, mental, and emotional support throughout labor and birth.
When many pregnant mothers think of childbirth they are met with fear because of the institutional feel that hospitals have. Unfamiliarity with hospital staff, interruptions, fear of needles, lack of privacy, and bright lights are examples of the "harsh environment theory" which can have negative influences on a labouring mother. A doula brings a sense of familiarity, understanding, and trust to the mother.
Another reason why doulas are effective is because they may help increase the secretion of oxytocin - the hormone that is responsible for labor starting and continuing on its own. It is the "love" hormone. When we are feeling loved and safe, the amount oxytocin released is greater. Mother's create an attachment to their doula throughout pregnancy that naturally presents itself during labor. Because of this attachment and feeling of safety, more oxytocin is secreted.
A third reason why doulas are found to be effective is because they are natural pain relievers. It has been found that mothers who have a doula experience less pain in labor. When a mother experiences less pain, she is in a more calm state of mind. The likelihood of her needing pain relief is decreased, thus decreasing the need for Pitocin augmentation and other interventions as they often go hand in hand.
Dekker, Rebecca. “Evidence on: Doulas.” Evidence Based Birth®, 11 Apr. 2019, evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/.
Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6.
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