While doulas are becoming more common, I am still frequently being asked, "What is a doula?" I've explained that here. So let's talk about what a doula is not:
* I do NOT provide medical care or advice. I am increasingly concerned when I hear of moms calling their doula with pressing medical concerns rather than calling their care providers. If you are experiencing any signs of preterm labor then you call your care provider FIRST (or head straight to the hospital) and you call your doula on your way so we can meet you there. But if you call me and are experiencing any significant physical symptoms then I will tell you to hang up on me and call your midwife/OB. If you are having round ligament pain or sciatica or heartburn then of course - I can help give you some tips, but I'll still tell you to discuss this at your next visit with your provider. Sometimes people confuse the roles of doula and midwife so to reiterate - a doula is NOT a medical professional and provides absolutely no medical care. We do not check your blood pressure, perform cervical exams, listen to your baby's heart tone, or monitor you in any medical way. We cannot tell you when it's time to go the the hospital/birth center (but we can help read your cues and support you and your partner as you decide when it's time) and we absolutely do NOT provide medical advice. That is the job of your midwife or OB.
* I do not speak for you. The hospital staff will listen to YOU (the patient) and your partner (if they are listed on your paperwork as someone they may discuss your care with.) In some circumstances when I've known the staff I've been able to mention things and they are happy to respond, like a gentle reminder, "They wanted delayed cord clamping." But I am your guest in the hospital, and the staff has absolutely no obligation to listen to anything I have to say. In fact they cannot legally even discuss the situation with me without having your consent and making note in your records! I've had parents say it would be nice to have someone at the birth to speak for them and to tell the staff what to do - that is NOT the role of a doula. I can remind you of your birth plan, I can make sure you are informed of what's going on in the room, I can encourage you and your partner to speak to the staff and ask questions, I'll remind you about BRAIN. But as a doula I do NOT speak for you.
* I cannot guarantee any specific outcome. While I work with you to help express your desires for the birth and to work towards that goal, a doula cannot ever promise anything will go the way you hoped! (Wouldn't that be an incredible skill??) Many parents hire a doula because they want to increase their chances of a natural, vaginal birth. But sometimes plans need to change and that epidural or cesarean may become necessary. This does not mean you (or your doula!) have failed in any way - it means birth is full of surprises and we cannot predict what may happen. Yes, births with a doula present are on average shorter, less likely to have an epidural, and less likely to be cesarean births. But having a doula does not guarantee any of those things. Having a doula means that no matter what happens, you'll have the support and care you need to make the best decision for you and your baby for YOUR situation.
For doulas, clarifying our role at the birth is so important to avoid any assumptions, incorrect expectations, or miscommunication with clients. This should be addressed in our consults, prenatal visits, and specified in our contracts. Doulas are invaluable and beneficial and amazing! But we have a specific role on the birth team, and it's crucial we help parents understand how we can help.
For parents, I hope this helps to better define what my role is - and is not - at a birth! By ensuring everyone is on the same page as to what a doula offers, we can help ensure we provide the best possible support to families.