Doulas: They May Not Be Who or What You Think

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African American pregnant mother in labor
Jennifer Miller, B.S., Doula, CLC, and Co-Founder and President of Chocolate Milk Mommies laboring with her second child Photo Credit: Bold As A Lion Studios

There has been a little extra hype surrounding the birth world in Alabama in the last few weeks. You may have seen the statement that a Huntsville OBGYN recently released outlining a ban on doulas in her practice. Some were shocked, others infuriated, and still some didn’t see why this was a big deal. I don’t personally know what that doctor’s reasons are for making such a blanket statement; I want to gracefully give her the benefit of the doubt.

But let me be clear here: I personally believe that banning doulas is wrong, and I will explain further below.

As birthing persons, we have the right to choose our healthcare providers, location for our births, support team, and method of care. Anyone trying to limit or take away those rights is a huge red flag.

In response, Kyle Whitmire recently wrote an article on al.com where he cleverly shared his personal experiences with one of our very own Birmingham-area doulas. He states:

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of false knowledge in Alabama. A lot of ignorance. And not unrelated, we have a lot of C-sections, premature births, low birth weights, and infant mortality. Those are the real problems here, not doulas. And we need all the help fixing them that we can get. Doulas are the good guys here, y’all.”

But . . . What Are Doulas, Exactly? 

No Baby-Catchers Here

A doula is a non-medical, trained professional who provides continuous physical, informational, emotional, and sometimes spiritual support to a birthing person. This includes support before, during, and after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible, as she defines it. This means whatever way a person desires and chooses to give birth, a doula is there every step of the way to encourage and support those choices.

So . . . no weird potions or anything? Nope.

I am a doula. I’m just an average lady who happens to have a heart for mothers and families. My personal Instagram is even public so that potential clients can get a little glimpse of who I am before meeting for an interview. I will say though, while I may have no spells, I may sift your belly to help your baby get in a more favorable position or suggest having sex with your partner to naturally encourage your baby out.

I’m just going say it: what gets them in, sometimes helps get them out.

Doulas Are For EVERY Type of Birth

Sometimes when people find out what I do, they say, “Oh gosh, I could never do that!” To which I almost always reply, “Have a baby?” It opens the door for me to explain that doulas don’t just help birthers try to achieve a natural or unmedicated birth, but rather help each and every client explore all the options. Doulas help birthers gain insight and knowledge in order to prepare for the birth that they want, and support them in every way possible.

Birmingham Christian doula attending a birth
Doulas don’t take the place of partners; in fact, teaching them how to comfort the laboring mother is one of my favorite things to do. Photo Credit: By Design Birth Doula Services, Edits: Katherine Morgan Images

If there’s anything you can plan on for your birth day (or even for your fourth trimester), it’s that something will likely not go according to plan. As a matter of fact, you can almost bet on it. A doula is right there to help you navigate every turn by providing evidence-based information and utilizing learned skills. They don’t tell you what to do, but rather help you explore your options so that you can feel confident in your choices.

When giving birth in a hospital, a doula is someone you have met and formed a relationship with ahead of time. A doula is someone you can bring with you into a space full of strangers (although, sometimes those strangers can often be super amazing, too).

Doulas and Dads

Additionally, doulas and partners make an incredible team in assisting a mother in labor. One of my favorite things to do is show a father-to-be how to help with positioning or comfort measures. Where doulas have training and knowledge, partners have history and connection. Together we form a full-circle support squad. Having the opportunity to help build confidence within those relationships is truly a blessing.

The Stats

Unfortunately, achieving that best birth alone in Alabama can be challenging. We were just recently ranked the second worst state in which to have a baby (only being beat out for worst by our sister state, Mississippi). The U.S. also has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, many of which could be prevented by better care. These statistics are especially important to Black Americans whose infant and maternal mortality rates are three times higher than their white counterparts. Alabama also ranks #7 in highest Cesarean rates (U.S average 32%, Alabama 35.1%) and #3 in both preterm and low birth rates. Some local hospitals have Cesarean rates as high as 45.7%.

Having a Doula Makes a Difference

So how do doulas help combat these statistics? In 2017, an updated Cochrane Review on the use of continuous support for women during childbirth showed that the following statistics were reported:

  • 25% decrease in the risk of Cesarean; the largest effect was seen with a doula (39% decrease)
  • 8% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth; the largest effect was seen with a doula (15% increase)
  • 10% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
  • Shorter labors
  • 38% decrease in the baby’s risk of a low five minute Apgar score
  • 31% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

I’d say that those are pretty favorable. Here in Birmingham you may only hire one doula, but you are receiving the support of many. We are a community of unique individuals working diligently together to further improve care and birth experiences in our area.

However and wherever someone would like to prepare for parenthood, give birth, or begin caring for little humans, there is a doula for everyone. Did you have a doula at your birth? Are you considering one? We’d love to hear your comments!

Birmingham volunteer doula supporting a birth
Bethany Boggan CD(DONA) assists a client through her volunteer birth doula work with Birthwell Partners Photo Credit: Camilla Alves Photography

*Some mothers are now choosing to add birth and/or postpartum doula services to their registries right alongside car seats, bassinets, and other necessities. Birthwell Partners is also always accepting donations to provide low-resource families in our community with free and reduced cost childbirth education, breastfeeding assistance, and doula support. What better way to shower a mother than to help her acquire the best support possible during one of the most beautiful, yet challenging, times of her life?

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Jeanna is a small-town girl originally from rural Livingston, Alabama. After living in Tuscaloosa for 12 years with her polar-opposite husband, they packed everything up for new adventures in Birmingham in November 2018. After spending many years working within the fields of interior and graphic design, Jeanna formed By Design Birth Doula Services in 2017 to encourage and support mothers to discover and use their innate strengths and abilities to achieve their best and most positive birth possible and carry that confidence into parenthood. She considers having the opportunity to do design work from home, take care of her family, and empower and support mothers and families as some of her greatest blessings. When she isn’t chasing her precious little ones (Marin, 3 and Meyer, 1), folding mountains of laundry, designing everything from commercial signs to t-shirts, or helping welcome new babies, Jeanna enjoys trying to beat Fitbit challenges, reading, crafting, writing, exploring new cities (and let’s be honest – food), and just porch sitting with her husband.

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