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Article posted: 11/1/2012 5:00 AM

Doulas offer support, massage, reminders to help mothers have natural births

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When Jessica Wilson was in labor with her second son, Hunter, and the contractions became more intense, she cried out, "I can't do this anymore!"

Wilson's frustration quickly subsided with her doula's comforting, coaching words: "No, you're doing this. Everything is going to be OK."

Looking back, the Winfield mom can't imagine going through another natural homebirth without a doula. Because she wants other women to have support like she had during labor, Wilson underwent training through DONA International and officially became a doula in February.

Wilson said a doula provides physical, emotional and informational support to mothers before, during and after labor, both in home births and in hospital settings. Doulas support mothers choosing a natural birth and those who choose to use pain medication.

Many doulas receive formal training, but they do not provide medical care. Throughout history, women have supported other women in labor. But within the past five years, Wilson said more and more expectant moms are hiring doulas because they want to have natural births.

Deb Lawrence said she meets with an expectant couple a few times before the birth to get to know them and to discuss their goals and fears concerning labor. Lawrence owns Magic Hands Birth Services in Streamwood and over the past 13 years has helped more than 350 moms in labor as a doula.

When Wilson gets a phone call from a mom in labor, she comes right away. Whether the labor is seven hours, or 37 hours, Wilson never leaves the laboring mom's side. If it is a home birth, Wilson communicates with a midwife about how the contractions are going.

Debbie Boucher, an advanced practice nurse and certified nurse midwife who offers doula services through her company, Childbirth the Way Nature Intended in Libertyville, said providing comfort is a big part of what a doula offers.

Boucher said doulas provide physical comfort with massages, aromatherapy oils, position reminders and coaching to help laboring moms experience less pain.

The physical comfort is especially important because pain medications can have certain risks. For example, Boucher said an epidural could cause a mom's blood pressure to drop, potentially causing a baby to become distressed and possibly leading to an emergency cesarean section.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, studies show that having a doula as a member of a birth team "decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50 percent, the length of labor by 25 percent, requests for an epidural by 60 percent," and also helps the mother have a "more positive childbirth experience."

Wilson said a doula is especially important in a hospital setting. If a couple wants a natural birth, the doula will advocate for the couple and navigate hospital protocols.

Wilson said fathers sometimes freeze up and get nervous during the labor process. A father can look to a doula for reassurance so that he can support his partner instead of being worried, she said.

Heidi King of North Aurora had Wilson as her doula at the birth of her first son, Josiah, in September. King said Wilson told her husband, Ben, what to do to help her during labor.

"It's our first time ever having a kid," King said. "I'm a nurse so I know about the birthing process. Having the doula there to tell my husband to offer this and offer that empowered him to help me. My husband wouldn't have known what to do otherwise. He did very well with the doula there."

After the birth, Wilson said a doula may stay with the mom for a few hours and provide lactation support if needed. Most doulas schedule a follow-up visit with their clients to talk about the birth and answer any questions or concerns.

Being a doula is a 24-7 job. Lawrence never knows when one of her clients will go into labor. Despite this, Lawrence loves being a doula and will never forget the day when her two daughters acknowledged how important her job is.

"I said, 'Girls, thank you so much for letting me do this work.' They turned and looked at me and said, 'How could we not? They need you.'"

Allison Sass of Elgin had Lawrence as a doula at the births of her four children. Sass said Lawrence is the "most calming force."

"With my first birth, I found out my husband had just lost his job, I freaked out, and then literally my water broke," Sass said. "I was panicking. Deb put her hand on my arm and I just broke down into tears. She just said, 'This is what your husband is doing for you right now. It's going to be OK.' She has the ability to calm you, and helps you stay focused and on task."

Erica Wiseman of St. Charles had Wilson as a doula at the birth of her son, Michael, in September. During the homebirth, Wiseman said Wilson not only encouraged her, but also explained things to her children, and even had one of her daughters help provide counter pressure during bad contractions.

"I'm thinking I would never want to be in labor without a doula," Wiseman said. "It's wonderful to have the encouragement."

Helping moms like Wiseman, makes Wilson's job as a doula even more fulfilling.

"I think it is the most rewarding experience just to be able to support another woman and her family and to help them achieve what they want," Wilson said. "People are inviting you to be a part of one of the most intimate moments of their lives -- the birth of their child. To be apart of that is really nothing short of a blessing."

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