The Birth Partner and The Doula

A woman’s birth partner is an essential part of her support system during labor and birth.  Often times, her partner wants to be actively involved, helping to ease her discomfort and advocate on her behalf.  S/he may have no previous experience with birth, yet is expected, through participation in a birthing course or reading a book, to be familiar with the labor process and the language of birth, to understand medical procedures and hospital protocols, and to remember all of the comfort measures that will be useful to their partner in the moments that she needs them.  Many partners are eager to take on this role, while others, who are no less dedicated to the mother’s well-being, find these expectations unnerving.

A doula can help a woman’s partner share in the birth at whatever level s/he feels most comfortable and participate with confidence.  If s/he feels anxious about their reaction to seeing the mother in pain or her instinctive behavior during childbirth, a doula’s skills and knowledge can help them relax.  A doula can offer reassurance and clarify normal parts of the birthing process.  If the partner wants to provide physical comfort, the doula can offer guidance and suggest options for what may work best.  A doula compliments the partner’s role and strengthens it, helping to nurture the mother, and helping to give them both the best possible experience.

A doula is an ally and occasional mentor for the partner.  Their respective roles are similar, but the differences are crucial.  The partner typically has little actual experience in dealing with the often subtle forces of the labor process and may receive enormous benefit from the presence of a doula, who is familiar with the process of birth.  Many partners experience the birth as an emotional journey of their own and find it hard to be objective in such a situation.  Studies have shown that fathers usually participate more actively during labor with the presence of a doula than without one.  A responsible doula supports and encourages the partner in their support style rather than replaces them.

A Help to Fathers – from Special Women by Paulina Perez and Cheryl Snedeker

Men are choosing to take an increasingly active role in the process of labor and birth.  They attend childbirth and parenting classes and remain with their partners during the birth process.  This is generally viewed as satisfying and beneficial for all.  However, many men find that along with this participation comes increased expectations of them.  They are sometimes expected to be the “labor authority” when they do not feel qualified for that role.  First time fathers realize their wives may need more reassurance, support and guidance than they can provide.  Experienced or not, fathers may need the relief and help that a labor assistant can bring to the long hours of labor.  They are anxious to support and nurture their partners, but realize their expertise with birth is limited to the knowledge gained in childbirth classes or to their own previous attendance at birth.  Men have feelings of insecurity in labor and need support and guidance, too.

Won’t my husband feel displaced by this extra person in the birthing room?
– from The Birth Book by William Sears, M.D. & Martha Sears, R.N.

The PLA [doula] does not replace the father at birth.  Instead she takes the pressure off him to “coach,” freeing him up to do what a man does best – love his mate.  In fact, a PLA [doula] should empower both the mother and father to perform their roles.  Nor does the PLA [doula] take the place of the obstetrician or staff nurse, but rather fills in the gaps in the health-care team to provide consistent, continual care.  This allows the obstetrician to be used more efficiently and frees him or her to make the best medical decisions.  Even if you have a nurse assigned only to you, she can’t be there constantly, and during delivery she will be helping the doctor [or midwife].

A mother notes:  Because my husband was freed from the primary role of guiding me through labor, he and I were able to labor lovingly together.  I didn’t rely on him to somehow save me from the pain of labor, so there was no tension between us from expectations.  He said he was glad to be part of the experience rather than carrying the burden of the experience.

Here is an article written by one Dad who tells his story on why dads and doulas are a great mix for your labor.

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