By Guest Blogger Lauren Rathbone, MBA, CD(DONA)

In the background, there is soft music playing. The lights are turned off, and the blinds are open to allow the sunlight to shine through. Within the room is a woman, slowly, but surely, working toward a finish line. Each breath, each hope, each whisper brings closer the little being she has been carrying for the past many months and possibly praying for many more. Quietly and calmly, a voice of reassurance and encouragement can be heard. The owner of this voice is helping the woman’s partner hold the laboring mother in a way helpful to the descent of the baby. A different placement of this outside person’s hands help ease a contraction. The voice, support, and techniques are only a glimpse into the world of a doula.

When I talk with an expectant mother, the question of what a doula does exactly is, in most cases, at the top of the list. The typical response is “a woman supporting a laboring mother through childbirth”, but there are so many other aspects to a doula’s role as part of your birth team. The scope of that support, the types of births a doula assists with, and the “extras” that encompass doula services may also be questions.

Each woman is different. How her body reacts to the laboring process, the ways she prepares for the birth, and what her desires are for her birth experience are varied and individualized. Trained and certified doulas are completing or have completed a series of educational and experience benchmarks to help each woman prepare for her goals, to move her through different aspects of labor more readily, and to work with her if there are times when the birth plan is thrown out the window.

Many times, I hear, “I’m planning to have an epidural. How can a doula help me?” This is a situation in which many doulas excel! While the mother has an epidural, there are positions to help the baby descend more efficiently and help keep her more comfortable during the process. For the mother with an elective or necessary Cesarean section, doulas can help you prepare a family-centered birth plan, and work with you to prepare pre- and post-birth care. The vast majority of our training is natural birth-related, and each of us have special skills to help you prepare. Remember, labor is a marathon, not (typically) a sprint!

Within the world of a doula, there are so many options that may be included in a care plan or added by request. Typically included are items such as: prenatal meetings – these may be “game plan”-oriented or may include meeting with your obstetrician or midwife, if desired; spousal/partner support – knowing that the mother will never be alone, having the availability to grab a quick restroom break or cup of coffee, and having a calm support system for them; postpartum meetings – this can be anything from a few moments to review your birth to a few minutes to decompress while someone else takes the little one for a brief amount of time. Other “extras” doulas may cover are postpartum care (there are postpartum doulas in the area), placenta encapsulation, childbirth classes, and a myriad of additional resources.

Whatever your birth plan may encompass – from natural, non-medicated to elective Cesarean – there is a doula available to help you envision your amazing birth experience!

Meet Lauren and several area doulas at the “Ask the Experts” event on Saturday, October 25th from 2 – 4 pm at Winston-Salem’s Babies”R”Us. Babies”R”Us is located at 975 Hanes Mall Boulevard.

Lauren Rathbone is a DONA certified birth doula, a member of the Piedmont Area Doula Association and DONA International, and has an MBA from High Point University.