Partner support vs. doula support during birth: what’s the difference?
If you are partnered, it can be wonderful to have the presence and support of your partner while you are pregnant, in labor, and delivering your baby. They are a crucial part of the experience for many people and maybe the number one emotional support. They can also be helpful in so many ways, such as rubbing your feet, bringing you things to drink, or helping with decision-making. But oftentimes, when it comes to labor and birth, partners are in need of support themselves. Unless this is not your first baby, they likely have never before witnessed labor and childbirth, which commonly brings up feelings of nervousness and fear, especially as they face watching their loved one go through the intensity of labor and birth. Their own lack of experience and disposition towards birth can hold them back from giving the same type of support that birth doulas provide.
Although you may love having your partner around and their presence feels supportive, doulas offer amazing additional value. The biggest difference between a partner and a doula is the experience, training, and knowledge about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum that doulas bring to the table.
What Is a Doula?
The word doula originates from the Greek language and directly translates to mean “slave” or “woman who serves.” Given this problematic history of Americans having appropriated this Greek term without a deep understanding, some people use other terms instead of doula, including birthworker, birthkeeper, childbirthing support person, postpartum companion, among others. Regardless of the term the person chooses, the definition of their role is more or less the same: an experienced person who provides physical, emotional and informational support during pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and after birth. Doulas may have additional specialties, certifications, or experience. For example, some doulas are also lactation counselors, some have certifications in prenatal nutrition or prenatal exercise, and some specialize in home birth or twins/multiples.
It is important to note that the word doula does not only describe birthwork alone. There are many different kinds of doulas. There are sibling doulas, who take care of older siblings while their parents birth a new one. There are abortion and miscarriage doulas, who help families transition through the experience of prenatal loss. There are postpartum doulas, who provide support to the birthing parent and baby specifically during the first days and weeks after having your baby. There are adoption doulas, who help new families work through the process of becoming parents through adoption. There are full spectrum doulas who offer support from menstruation to menopause. As you can see, there really is a doula for everyone!
What Do Birth Doulas Do?
While you are still pregnant, you will likely meet with your birth doula a couple of times to create and/or go over your birth plan or birth preferences, as we like to call them. You will also review what you might do during labor to stay comfortable, which may include practicing physical positions. These meetings are also a great time to ask any questions you may have about the process of childbirth and breastfeeding/chestfeeding.
At or around 36-38 weeks, your birth doula will start being on-call for you, which means they are available day or night to answer any questions that may arise or to notify them if you believe that labor has begun.
During early labor, your doula may join you at home, and then will accompany you to the hospital or location of your birth or stay with you at home if you are having a homebirth. They will help to keep you hydrated and moving into different positions, which is important for labor progression. Although birth doulas are NOT medically trained, your birth doula may have a sense of what is normal (and what may be a cause for concern), and can give you peace of mind if you become worried. Your doula will remain with you continuously as you labor and deliver your baby and will usually stay with you for an hour or two after your birth to help you get a good start with the first feed.
Your birth doula will also likely include a postpartum visit as part of their contract. This means they will visit you at home and help you process the birth experience and provide basic postpartum support. If you are looking for more postpartum support, to help you transition into parenthood, consider hiring a postpartum doula. Who may provide assitance with the basics of infant feeding, light household baby chores such as folding laundry or doing dishes, teaching infant soothing skills, and more. Oftentimes people like to use their postpartum support hours to take a nap or a shower while their doula holds their baby.
How Can My Partner Help Too?
Supporting a birthing parent is rarely a one person job. While it is possible for your partner to do many of the same things that a birth or postpartum doula does, your partner is also going to be in need of support! Just like you, they have likely never gone through this experience before. Your partner may also be sleep deprived, nervous, and have questions. This is why in hiring a birth doula, you can ensure that the whole family is supported.
Both doulas and partners can make wonderful support for people in labor because they both have vested interests and care for the person laboring. The biggest difference between a partner and a doula is that a doula, unless very inexperienced, has likely attended multiple births before. Not only can they offer the knowledge learned in trainings, but they can also impart the wisdom of having gone through a variety of births before. With their knowledge and experience combined, they provide mental peace and comfort during a time that can be riddled with anxiety.
If you are expecting, give yourself the gift of a birth doula! You will receive the emotional, physical, and informational support you deserve and need for a confident, positive birth experience. Worried about the cost? Click here to find out ways to pay for your doula, as you consider if this is the best choice for you. HINT: it is!
Laura is a doula, a writer, and the mother of two incredible kids. When not supporting new families or her own, you can find her trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Laura is available on the boober platform for matches.