Families hire doulas for all sorts of reasons, and yes, many are hiring us for our knowledge of non-pharmacological knowledge of coping with labor. On the other hand, most doulas will also have experience with women who decided either on the spot, or beforehand, to use a medical intervention to decrease the intensity of their contractions. These women can utilize the best of both worlds during labor. They can get the decrease in sensations that they want from their narcotic or epidural, while still having the steady support from their doula.
When a woman gets any kind of medicinal pain relief, there is still a lot a doula can do to support her during her labor and birth. Sometimes, when a woman no longer has to focus on the physical aspects of labor, her mind will start racing. It is not uncommon for a woman to start thinking things like “Is my baby ok?” “Is everything going all right?” or even “I feel like I can’t breathe.” Our role is then to support the mother emotionally and assure her when everything is going along normally. We can help point out when the mother is having contractions, and in this way, she can still her to the fact that she is in labor.
The numbness that comes along with an epidural is a blessing and huge relief to some women. It does sometimes also have the effect of slowing labor down. It is a good idea to have mamas move at least every 20 minutes, to help the baby become engaged in the birth canal, and move labor along. Sometimes this can be a challenge when an epidural is on board. The doula knows specific positions to help the mother get in, which are appropriate in this scenario, and which will help her baby get into it's optimal position for birth, and keep things moving.
Sometimes, care providers will want to let the epidural or other drug wear off a little before the mom starts to push. This makes it easier for her to feel when and how to push her baby out. A doula will then jump right in with the physical comfort measures she has been professionally trained to provide.
And lastly, sometimes pain relief, for whatever reason, doesn’t work out. Sometimes a woman may still have ‘windows’ of pain where the drug doesn’t numb her. Or, if her labor is moving very quickly, she may not have time to utilize the pain medication she was planning on.
Doulas are not here to judge or impose on your birth story. We support women in whatever choices are right for you. Childbirth is intense and filled with a myriad of physical and emotional ups and downs. A doula will help navigate the waters of labor and birth for any mother who desires her support.