A happy, healthy baby and a happy, healthy mom. That’s the outcome everyone wants from a birth experience. The continuous, compassionate care that a doula provides can enhance that experience for everyone.

What is a doula? A doula is a person trained and experienced in childbirth. Birth doulas provide continuous, non-medical, physical and emotional support to the laboring family during the labor, birth and immediate postpartum period.

Women have been supporting women during birth for centuries. What makes the doula’s role so unique is that she is a trained birth companion — not a family member or friend — providing continuous support.

Doulas support families during one of the most exciting, and sometimes stressful times of their lives. Some help mothers who would have given birth alone, while others help them face unexpected medical complications for themselves or their babies.

The role of a doula varies depending on the needs of each particular family. Some families want more hands-on labor support, such as massage or counter-pressure during contractions, while others need more emotional support, such as reassurance or birth affirmations. Doulas tailor their support to fit the needs of the family.

Doula care makes a difference in the lives of many families. Yet for many, doula care is unattainable because of the expense. Private doula care in central Ohio starts around $500, with the average cost between $800 - $1,000. But thanks to the generous support of the Mount Carmel Foundation, the Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Doula Program is able to offer hospital-based doula services at a fraction of that cost, with some patients receiving full scholarships. The goal of the program is to make doula care accessible to all families giving birth at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s if they want it.

Through the Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Doula Program, a doula remains with the patient throughout the labor and birth process and for one to two hours postpartum.

While most patients register ahead of time, there have been a few times when patients learn about the program upon arriving at the hospital. Patients have registered from their rooms and even while in labor, and, with great teamwork among the Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Labor & Delivery nursing staff, the Doula Program Coordinator, and the doulas, have been able to have a doula present for their births.

“It’s about meeting families where they are,” said Mount Carmel St. Ann’s Doula Program Coordinator, Sunny Carlisle. “It’s about listening and supporting and non-judgment, and it’s about helping families as they move through pregnancy into parenthood. The physical and emotional support that doulas provide transcends the labor room. It goes with them as they go home with their baby. It is with them at 2 am as they are trying to figure out why their baby is fussy or why she is struggling to latch, and it gives them confidence in themselves. It also gives them the strength to ask for help when they need it. Doulas model mothering, and our families take that with them.”

“My doula, Sarah, was instrumental in my laboring processes,” said one grateful patient. “She possesses the calm, professional and pleasant personality that I needed. Even my husband, who was skeptical of the whole idea of a doula, commented after the birth of our son that she brought something to the table that we desperately needed. I will forever highly recommend this program and Sarah to anyone who will listen.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 Inspire Newsletter.