By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD – Reviewed by a board-certified physician.
Updated July 09, 2016
There is a popular misconception that a doula, someone who provides professional labor support, is only useful for women who are planning an unmedicated or natural childbirth. As a long time doula, I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth.
A doula provides a woman and her family with support before, during, and after the birth in many different ways. An epidural is merely one of the many tools that are available to laboring women today.
While an epidural can relieve pain, it doesn’t provide support in the way that a doula provides support. So I thought I would spell out some of the things that a doula can do for a mother who would like to use an epidural as a tool for pain relief in her labor.
- Support prior to arrival at the hospital. Many mothers will do some part of their labors at home, prior to arriving at the hospital. How long this lasts will depend on many factors including the instructions from the hospital and care provider, as well as the preference of the mother. This means that you will be laboring, without pain relief from an epidural. Using a doula can be a way to increase your comfort and confidence while you are still at home until the point when it is time to go to the hospital.
- Comfort measures prior to, during, and after the epidural. An epidural is only one form of pain relief. There are other things that you may need to provide comfort for, during many periods before your baby is born. A doula is specially trained to help provide those comfort measures. It might be massage, it might be using water, it might be counter pressure or help with movement, but a doula will be able to help you keep your cool before, during, and after an epidural.
- Relaxation skills. While the epidural does provide pain relief, it may not take away the anxiety that a mother feels. It may also not prevent all the pain or remove all sensation, this can cause some mothers to be concerned. Having a doula is a great way to help stay relaxed and focused on having a positive, safe birth.
- Positioning in labor. Picking the right position in labor is much easier before the epidural. You simply follow your body’s lead and get in positions that are comfortable to you. After the epidural, changing positions is still important, but can become harder to do because of the numbness you feel in your lower body. A knowledgeable doula can help you assume a variety of positions, including using tools like a peanut ball to help keep your labor progressing. A doula is also an extra set of hands to help you as you’re pushing. I often tell people that I make a great leg holder when needed!
- Informational support. A doula is a great interpreter in labor. The doula works to help convey what your goals and desires are to the nursing and medical staffs, while also helping you understand what they are discussing or recommending and how it will impact your labor. A doula will help you ask the questions that you need to ask to get the information to make the best decision for you and your baby.
- Help in the immediate postpartum time period. After the baby is born, a doula can help you make sure that your baby is kept with you, skin-to-skin, ready for breastfeeding. A doula can also help you manage the flow of friends and family after the birth as you and your baby have some quiet time for bonding.
“My friends were a bit shocked when I told them that I had hired a doula and that I planned to get an epidural,” says one new mom. “Honestly, it was perfect. I labored at home with my partner and doula, then we went to the hospital and labored for a bit more. I decided I wanted the epidural then, and my doula helped get me ready, and held me during the procedure, then she helped both of us stay focused on labor and our needs, and helped after the baby was born. It was the perfect labor.”