When she was eight months pregnant Shelley* became convinced that her care provider’s philosophies were not in line with what she was planning for her birth. But she thought it was much too late to switch to a care provider of her choice, a midwife.

She mentioned her wishes to her doula and was delighted when she was able to make the change, thanks to the doula’s knowledge and connections.

In the end, she had a “wonderful home birth,” according to Stefanie Antunes, a doula and founder of Toronto-based Discover Birth (www.discoverbirth.com). “She was absolutely thrilled with her experience and very grateful for the choices (made) available to her.”

One of the greatest contributions a doula has to offer is an informed perspective on a pregnant woman’s choices, as well as whether those choices are likely to lead to the outcome the woman desires.

Antunes points out that today there is an unprecedented wealth of information available on what’s ideal for mothers and babies. Doulas can help a mother siphon through that information and make decisions that line up with the mother’s desires and situation.

“(The doula) works for the mother, not a hospital or care provider,” Antunes says. “She will be there when she is needed: no shift changes.”

The term doula refers to a trained and experienced professional who provides ongoing physical, emotional and informational support to a woman around the birth of her child.

Doulas may provide antepartum support in the weeks and months prior to giving birth. This can be especially critical for women who are put on bed rest or who are suffering from extreme pregnancy symptoms.

The support doulas provide during that time may include helping with other children at home, taking care of small household tasks, offering emotional aid, and helping the mother prepare through childbirth education.

Doulas also offer labor support, including reassurance and perspective to both the mother and her partner. They contribute to making the birthing experience as positive and productive as possible by using massage, positioning and other techniques.

There are also postpartum doula services, which can vary, depending on the needs of the family. In the first few weeks after birth, doulas may help with breastfeeding, offer help and information on caring for a newborn, take care of household duties and older children, and so forth.

Sleep doulas, as the term suggests, are available to care for a newborn at night so that a mother can get much-needed sleep.

Studies show that doulas reduce the likelihood of cesarean birth and other interventions. The use of medications and epidurals to help cope with labor is also lessened, which can have a positive impact on mother and baby. Mothers are also less likely to experience postpartum mood disorders.

“More and more women are realizing how helpful a doula can be,” says Antunes.

“There’s nothing greater than to have someone who believes in this beautiful, healthy process called labor, and who believes in you.”

*(not her real name)